Duluth Photographer's Story of Vision Health

Posted at: 06/09/2013 9:49 PM | Updated at: 06/09/2013 10:33 PM

We all know the important role good vision plays in our lives. However, for many of us, if we don't notice a problem, it's easy to skip those periodic eye checkups. One local still photographer shared his story that explains why waiting to schedule that appointment might work against you.

Jeff Fifield has been a portrait photographer in Duluth for more than 40 years. "I photograph mostly people. Family, children, high school seniors," he said, "I meet all sorts of people of course... People are my thing."

It's not only a career but also a passion he hopes to continue for years to come. About five years ago he got some news he wasn't expecting after attending a photographer conference wile assisting the instructor.

"He instructed the class to cover one of their eyes for a lighting demonstration. When I covered my right eye I realized I wasn't seeing very well out of my left eye," he said.

That's when he realized he couldn't see fully out of the bottom of his left eye and describes it as a dark spot in his vision. So, he almost immediately booked an appointment with ophthalmologist Dr. Kevin Treacy.

Although Jeff has a family history of glaucoma, he hadn't been in for an eye exam in more than ten years because he hadn't recognized a problem with his vision. "It was something that I had just not ever noticed," he said.

After his appointment with Dr. Treacy, Jeff learned he has glaucoma, an eye disease in which damage to the optic nerve leads to irreversible vision loss. Dr. Treacy says it was good to catch the disease when they did, but finding problems early or before the patient even realizes there is one is crucial.

"A lot of the disease we see people for can cause damage before people are aware of it. Those are the people that benefit most from periodic eye exams," Dr. Treacy said.

Dr. Treacy says it's really worth it to find out early. He says treatments can be as simple as a change in glasses, but other issues require medical treatment with eye drops, injections and sometimes even surgery.

"You just don't know what's back there until someone takes a look. So, don't just assume everything is fine until someone can verify that," Treacy said.

A younger person without eye issues should receive an eye exam every four to five years, according to Dr. Treacy. However, by age 40 folks should start going in for eye exams every three years. Then from age 60 and up should go in once every one to two years.

Jeff says he's was lucky to find out he has glaucoma when he did. "I'm a visual artist. So, anything having to do with my eyes has become very important all of a sudden," he said.

Since his diagnosis, Jeff's glaucoma has been kept at bay with treatments and he's able to keep doing his passion of photography in full force. "I'm fortunate that that's my situation," he said.

Now, he and Dr. Tracy are encouraging others with a family history of glaucoma to get their eyes checked. They're also stressing anyone over 40 to make sure they're getting those periodic eye exams.

"I hadn't had an eye exam for a long time I hadn't noticed any changes in my vision until that moment. So, I would encourage anybody, especially someone with a family history, not to put that off," Jeff said.

Dr. Treacy has some other tips to keep your eyes at their optimum health:

- He says maintaining a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies is a big help. - Make exercise a regular habit... It can decrease the risk for glaucoma. - Wear protective eye gear during sports and construction projects. - And if you're using a computer for a long period of time, look away from the screen and into the distance regularly and blink frequently.

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