Dr. Marc Gannon OD, FAAO, founder of the Low Vision Institute, has been working on helping people improve their vision for over 40 years. While most low vision therapy involves treating people like they were blind, the Low Vision Institute trains people to use the healthy tissue in their eyes so with specially designed eyewear, they can see again. May is Healthy Vision Month so we spoke with Dr. Gannon to find out his tips on how to avoid eyestrain, foods & vitamins that will help with eye health and why all of his patients receive an OttLite lamp to help with their treatment.
Why did you start the Low Vision Institute? I started practicing low vision when I was in the Navy in Norfolk, VA. I was the first eye doctor in the country to be assigned to the Office of the Flight Surgeon on an aircraft carrier. When I was aboard I was not only responsible for my flight crew but also for some of the dependents and retired people on the base.
One morning I was examining a gentleman in his 80’s who came in with two bags of magnifiers. He said he was legally blind and the week before had went to visit his daughter. When he went into her home he leaned over and picked a little piece of lint off her carpet. His daughter said ‘Dad you’re legally blind, how did you do that?’. The gentleman said ‘I don’t know’ and she told him to go see the eye doctor.
I told him the reason he was able to see it was because the white lint was on dark carpeting or it was dark lint on light carpeting so the contrast was good. It hit a part of his eye that was healthy and still functional so he was able to see it.
If we could teach him to aim the healthy part of his eye accurately and I designed a little microscope for him, he could start making ship models again. He came to me for about 4 months and did exercises for his eyes (and) at the end of the 4 months he was aiming his eye accurately. Then I designed a little microscope and 2 months later he was making ship models again. I helped a couple more patients while I was in the service and then when I moved to Florida I opened the Low Vision Institute and used the same general techniques after developing them over the years.
At what age should someone start getting their sight examined by a doctor? A pediatrician will look at a child’s eye from birth looking for any defects so a patient should start having regular exams by an eye doctor around the age of 4 or 5. At that age they can continue to have them every two years, as long as there’s nothing going on and there are no issues. It’s paramount (to get eye exams) throughout life because different problems exist at different times so it’s really important to have routine eye care.
What are some of the top things that can cause low vision in a person? Number one is macular degeneration. Diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa and glaucoma are major ones. Kids can get a juvenile form of macular degeneration called Stargardt's. We see children that are albino who have problems that can result in low vision as well. It’s important to catch these early if we can.
Eyestrain is a big problem for people, especially people who work at a computer all day. Do you have any suggestions on how to reduce eyestrain? Focusing is important. Maintaining a reasonable working distance and eliminating glare are important. Proper lighting is critical – good background light is very beneficial because it stabilizes the working conditions.
About every15 to 20 minutes someone who is working on a computer monitor should look across the room or stop for 30 to 60 seconds and close their eyes. It gives the eyes an additional chance to rest. That eliminates fatigue and keeps them going for hours and hours.
The main reason we blink is to rest the brain. A lot of people think that we’re blinking to try to spread the tears across our eyes to maintain lubrication. That’s an important aspect of blinking, but one of the most critical aspects of blinking is to rest your brain. If you give the brain a little longer rest for 30 to 60 seconds every 15 to 20 minutes that helps a lot.
There’s a myth that carrots help your eyesight. Are there really any foods or vitamins that will help with eye health? Yes, lutein is very important as is zeaxanthin which is a form of lutein. Vitamin A is excellent. Things that are antioxidant in nature will help prevent oxidation and other problems. Resveratrol which is found in red wine is an excellent antioxidant. Blueberries also have great antioxidants. Omega 3’s and fish oil are excellent. Also exercise, protecting yourself from sun and not smoking help as well. Smoking increases these conditions by up to 28 times.
Can you tell us a little about your Foundation? The American Foundation for Visual Rehabilitation was founded to help patients receive devices if they couldn’t afford them. These glasses are specifically low vision glasses that incorporate things like telescopes, eye prism adds, and unusual bifocal adds. Some of these devices (can be) a little pricey. If a doctor has a patient that needs a device they call us, tell us what they need and if we have it we pull it from our ‘library’ and forward it to them. It’s on loan to them for the life of the patient and then it’s returned to the foundation, refurbished and ready for someone else to borrow.
Why do all of your patients receive an OttLite? It’s the best of all the lamps available. The consistency of quality is good while the consistency of the wavelength and proper levels of illumination gives us good resolution. And it's excellent with contrast. These are things that we look for in improving a patient’s vision and making them the most functional, especially with optical related visual aids. It’s highly beneficial and that’s why we use them!
For more information on Dr. Gannon and the Low Vision Institute visit their website and Facebook page. For more information on the American Foundation for Visual Rehabilitation visit their website.