Dr. Neal Sher provides free laser vision correction for soldiers as part of “The Sight for Soldiers” campaign

When Captain Joe H. of the Minnesota National Guard returns to Iraq later this year, he’ll spend at least part of his tour in the combat zone.

Thankfully, he’ll have one less thing to worry about when attacks come in the middle of the night: no longer will he be fumbling for his glasses as he makes his way to the safety of the bunker.

Free surgery for troops

Joe is one of more than 500 soldiers who have benefited from the Sight for Soldiers program developed by Neal A. Sher, MD, FACS, of Eye Care Associates, in conjunction with Phillips Eye Institute, the region's only specialty eye hospital.

As part of this program, Dr. Sher provides free laser vision correction surgery to troops deploying to combat zones in Iraq or Afghanistan. These soldiers typically can't access such surgery through military channels, and many can’t afford it on their own.


Travel Tips For Your Eyes

Eye emergencies can be frightening, and even more so when you're far from home and not sure where to seek help. Vision loss and eye pain can make navigating a new city difficult and worse yet, if not treated appropriately, can lead to permanent visual impairment. Here are some eye care do's and don'ts to follow while you're traveling this summer, from comprehensive ophthalmologist Anne Sumers, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and world traveler.

Do: Double your pairs and pack your backups.

If you wear glasses, bring two pairs of glasses on every trip! "When I was 14, my glasses fell off and sank to the bottom of the ocean as I was looking at fish in Greece," says Dr. Sumers. "While everyone else toured the Acropolis, my mom and I had to spend the day in search of an English-speaking ophthalmologist and a very fast optician!" Similarly, if you wear contacts, bring an extra pair – and your glasses.

Don’t: Wait to see your own ophthalmologist.

Although it may be tempting, don't wait until you get home. Immediate treatment of small problems keeps them small. If you have an eye problem for which you would normally go to your ophthalmologist, you can go to EyeSmart’s Find an Eye M.D., which has an international list of all of the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s members. "A patient of mine got his eye scratched by a branch while hiking up to Macchu Picchu in Peru. He treated it with a friend’s artificial tears, suffering terrible pain for four days, and then arrived home with a serious infected ulcer in his eye. Had he seen an eye doctor on the first day, he would have received immediate treatment and the scratch would have healed in 24 to 48 hours with no loss of vision or permanent scar of the eye."


Nearsightedness and the Indoor Life

Why did myopia increase by 66 percent between the early 1970s and the early 2000s?

Not too long ago, kids with glasses were the odd ones out, favorite targets of school bullies. But glasses-wearing students are increasingly becoming the norm, with as many as one in four children needing corrective lenses, according to recent studies.
Over the past 15 years, the world has witnessed an explosion of cases of myopia, or nearsightedness. A quarter of the world's population, or 1.6 billion people, now suffer from some form of myopia, according to the Myopia Institute. If unchecked, those numbers are estimated to reach one-third of the world's population by 2020. While myopia has always affected a fraction of the population, at least in countries that have kept records, the condition has recently reached unprecedented rates among children and young adults.  


When myopia debuts early,
it has time to develop into
something more severe

Although myopia rates are relatively low in agricultural regions and nations, the difference is most likely associated with academic work and near work demands, and has less to do with outdoor light intensity. "The higher the academic stress, the higher the prevalence and the earlier the onset of myopia," Liu said, noting there are differences even between school districts in the same city. If spending a certain amount of time outdoors had a significant effect on myopia, we should see prevalence rates vary geographically based on light intensity, she said.

Both genetic and environmental influences determine the early onset and the progression of myopia, but genetic studies have a hard time showing which inherited factors play a greater role: the parents' genes, their lifestyle, or both, according to Liu, who performs animal studies related to myopia.

When myopia debuts early, it has time to develop into something more severe, Liu explained. In pathological myopia, which is still relatively rare, the excessive elongation of the eyeball significantly increases the risk for retinal detachment, abnormal blood vessel growth, and other complications, which can lead to irreversible vision loss.

The Myopia Control Clinic specialists use corrective lenses (novel contact lenses) to slow down myopia in children. If applied early enough, corrective lenses have proven effective in treating the disorder. In cases with very high myopia progression, however, scleral reinforcement surgery is used to reduce or stop further damage caused by high myopia, which often can be degenerative.

Atropine is the only drug that so far has proven effective in slowing myopia progression. The drug is used as a second line of treatment after all optical treatments fail.