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Optometry cares for Wyverns in the blink of an eye

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brooke Moeder
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The human eye can distinguish approximately 10 million different colors and is made up of more than two million working parts. With that many functioning pieces, maintaining ocular health is imperative. Here at Aviano, the 31st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron Optometry Clinic has a dynamic team of four, who do just that.

The human eye is connected to the brain and body through several interconnected physiologic systems where many diseases can be found just by observing its ocular health.

“People think that the eyeball is somehow separate from the body but many things that are going on in the body show up in the eye,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Craig Jensen, 31st OMRS optometrist. “Eye care providers many times are the ones who find them first. Heart problems, kidney problems, colon cancer, diabetes, melanoma, brain tumors among others can be found by looking at the health of the eye. The eyes truly are the window to the health of the rest of the body.”

Optometrists and ophthalmic technicians utilize a wide variety of equipment to perform a large spectrum of tasks to help visually check the health of the eye, along with issuing glasses and contacts prescriptions.

The Optometry Clinic cares for primarily active duty, but also sees dependents, retirees and their dependents. Approximately 30-40 patients are seen every day, and the optometrists and technicians spend approximately 20-40 minutes with each patient, depending on the type of appointment.

“As an ophthalmic technician, my day-to-day is to screen patients in order to hand them off to the optometrists,” said Senior Airman Yadira Benzing, 31st OMRS optometry technician. “I'll check distance visual acuity as well as near visual acuity. I also do [all preliminary testing to provide] a baseline reading for the doctor while they determine the prescription of the patient. I'll also do intraocular pressures, which is that puff of air that everyone hates.”

The clinic takes walk-in exams for flightline driving color vision testing, baseline visual acuity for occupational health, and issues military glasses and performs frame repairs. Specialty tests are also run to include using a fundus camera to photograph the interior surface of the eye. This color image of the eye documents the presence of disorders and monitors change over time.

If an individual has 20/20 vision, they are considered to have ‘normal’ visual acuity. Although, people can have prescriptions that are much higher (better), or lower (worse) than 20/20 vision.

“The average eyesight is 20/20,” said Jensen. “Someone who is 20/30 means they are seeing at 20 feet what someone who's “normal” (20/20) is seeing at 30 feet. You can have a 20/15 prescription which is even better than 20/20. If you can imagine perfect conditions within the eyes, the best capacity that it can make is 20/10, no better.”

The clinic also offers corneal refractive surgery evaluations to determine if an individual is eligible for corneal refractive surgery such as photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) and small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE). The clinic assesses if an individual meets the criteria during an annual eye exam.

“We do the pre and post operatives here,” said Jensen. “Our nearest surgical center is Landstuhl in Germany, it’s an Army site in partnership with Ramstein Air Base. I had PRK a couple years ago and it’s one of the better decisions I've ever made in my life. I highly recommend it to anyone that’s wanting to improve their quality of life.”

Active duty members are authorized two sets of glasses and a pair of gas mask inserts every 12 months. One pair is a standard issue frame, like the ones at basic training and the second pair is the ‘frame of choice’.

The clinic provides contact lens prescriptions and medical contacts for individuals with an ocular disease, but they don’t provide or order normal contact lenses. The optometrist can fit an individual’s contact lens to their eye in order to finalize their prescription.

“Unfortunately, TRICARE doesn't actually cover the cost of contact lenses but we provide them with a contact lens prescription and then from there they are free to order online or through the BX [or anywhere else commercially],” said Benzing. “TRICARE does cover medical contact lenses so if someone needs a scleral lens for a different ocular disease, we can provide that and we're actually working on getting the fitting processes available here at Aviano so that we can provide that instead of having to send people off base.”

Before Benzing attended tech school, she never knew eyes were so complex and emphasizes the importance of getting an annual eye exam.

“Your eyes are responsible for a lot,” said Benzing. “Getting to learn about the eye and the ocular structure and just what provides you vision gives you a bigger appreciation for your eyesight. I've become a bit of a stickler on getting your annual eye exam.”

Jensen said he thinks the eye is fascinating, but he loves getting to know the people behind the eye.

“My favorite part is getting to know each person’s story,” said Jensen. “Each person has depth to them and I love the people part of it. I hope that I can make an impact on them in what I do.”