The Importance of Having a Better Conversation With Your Eye Doctor

Today, patients are taking a more active role in their health care than ever before, but there are areas that still need more emphasis. Though patients want to have a voice and be actively engaged in making decisions about their health, many struggle with the conversation being had — or in some cases, not being had — in the eye doctor’s office.

In fact, a recent online survey by Allergan, makers of Restasis Multidose, and Kelton Global, revealed more than half (53 percent) of respondents are most comfortable talking about their health with a general practitioner, while only 6 percent said the same about their eye care professional.

Many patients may not realize that good communication can be as important as the physical eye exam in identifying symptoms, determining a diagnosis and recommending customized treatment plan. So how can patients get the most out of their next visit with an eye doctor? Knowing what to ask and which changes and symptoms to discuss, can guide the conversation and help an eye doctor spot signs of eye conditions — and even other health conditions that first manifest with eye symptoms.

Even though the majority of those surveyed (82 percent) have visited an eye care professional in the last five years, only a handful have brought up everything they should during that conversation with their doctor. While many raise concerns about a change in vision, respondents were less likely to bring up issues like burning or stinging, redness or watering eyes, which are tell-tale signs of an eye condition called Chronic Dry Eye. Among those with concerns, nearly half (44 percent) of survey respondents don’t openly discuss concerns with their eye doctor because they don’t think it’s a serious issue, hope it will go away on its own or assume it’s a natural consequence of aging. Patients need to know it is a detriment to their long-term eye health to ignore these symptoms.

It’s critical for patients to talk openly and honestly with an eye care professional about any symptoms or changes related to eye health, even if they don’t think there’s an issue. Patients should try keeping a mental log in the weeks leading up to their next appointment to prepare for a better conversation. For example, they might notice how frequently they use artificial tears or if the contact lenses they previously wore all day are now only comfortable for a few hours at a time. These symptoms could be signs of Chronic Dry Eye disease, a common, but often overlooked, condition. In fact, many of my patients diagnosed with Chronic Dry Eye weren’t aware they had symptoms or even realized there was a problem until we had a more in-depth conversation about what they were experiencing. 

Chronic Dry Eye is a disease that tends to occur somewhat more frequently in women than in men, and is associated more with advanced age, contact lens wear, certain medications, other medical conditions or environmental factors. Until our discussion and subsequent diagnosis, patients oftentimes don’t realize there are treatment options for Chronic Dry Eye, such as Restasis Multidose, which helps increase the eyes’ natural ability to produce tears, which may be reduced by inflammation due to Chronic Dry Eye.

It’s also critical that that eye care professionals understand this communication barrier and help open the dialogue by asking questions that could lead to the right diagnosis. Some questions that might help guide the conversation with patients include:

  • Have you noticed any changes in your eye health or routine? If so, how long have you been experiencing these changes?
    • For example, do you suddenly have trouble wearing contacts for the same length of time you used to?
  • Are your eyes itchy or watery or do you ever feel a gritty or sandy sensation?
  • Do you notice any increased sensitivity to light or difficulty maintaining focus on visual tasks such as reading?

The more prepared and engaged a patient is during a conversation, the more comfortable their eye doctor will be in providing a diagnosis and a customized treatment plan that can get to the crux of the problem. 

Neda Shamie, MD is with Advanced Vision Care in Los Angeles. 

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