The eyes are the windows to the soul--really. And for some people it is the most important of their senses. Just ask Maj. Ann Rudick, the chief of optometry service at Fort Knox's Ireland Army Health Clinic and Steve Lambert, the chief of marketing at U.S. Army Recruiting Command located at Fort Knox.

Rudick grew up watching family members who had eye problems regularly visit Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, and that is how she ended up in a career field dealing with the eyes.

As an optometrist she has noted that over recent years society has learned more about the interconnectedness of various systems within our bodies and how diet, exercise, and sleep can impact our overall function.

"This is no different with your eyes," she explained. "Insuring balance in these critical areas can not only lead to better overall health and quality of life, but it can preserve your eyesight as well."

Steve Lambert, who spent years managing marketing and film projects before his retirement as an Army officer, said he has been diabetic for about eight years and found out via a routine checkup.

"My eyes are definitely more important than any of my other senses," he noted. "As an artist/photographer/designer/director, my vision is critical--I can't even begin to imagine what my life would be like without my sight."

He said that he has had a few scares from not managing his diabetes properly, for example, a urinary tract infection and an incident of overmedication of his diabetes medicine which sent his body into shock. Both situations put him in an emergency room.

Having been a Soldier in the Army for so many years, Lambert--like a good many members of the military--has always "Soldiered on" through pain and discomfort. But after his own medical emergencies and a story about a visual blackout that a co-worker experienced when his sugar dropped - it took his eyes several days to focus--he said he has tried to pay more attention to what his body tells him. He said he learned that the smaller vessels in the eye are very sensitive to changes from diabetes.

"I have tried to be more attune to the subtle signs that my body sends (me)….," he added. "The headaches and slight pains can be a sign of something larger. Now when something doesn't feel right I stop and do something about it instead of ignoring it."

As part of his health management Lambert went to the nutritionist at Ireland who he said gave a, "great presentation." He also cut his junk food intake, he stays active by walking, and tries to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep every night.

"I take my blood twice a day as directed and if it comes in over 130 I take insulin. Otherwise I just take the oral medication twice a day with meals," he explained. "I've also adjusted my eating by cutting down on fast foods, particularly fried foods and I try to drink more water.

"My father, who died from complications from diabetes, use to always tell me 'don't be a slave to your taste buds.' But unfortunately it took getting diagnosed with diabetes to make me eat more sensibly."

The eye is a very dynamic tissue that requires substantial blood supply and if doesn't get it, the condition can lead to vision loss. But, diet can help.

"This is the case in diabetes, high blood pressure, macular degeneration, and possibly glaucoma," Rudick noted. "Foods that are good for overall eye health and vascular health include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, colorful fruits and vegetables--think leafy greens, berries, and yes, carrots, and limiting your intake of processed sugars."

And diabetes is one disease Rudick and the staff of the optometry clinic are hoping to help patients avoid. In fact, they've made it a special project. She said that systemic health problems that lead to eye problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, can be diagnosed during a dilated eye exam.
She explained that chronic high blood sugar causes dysfunction in the smallest blood vessels in the body first, and the eye has many small blood vessels. Those start to leak if a person's blood sugar is too high. High blood sugar can also accelerate the formation of cataracts.

"Initially, there are no symptoms or changes in vision, but in time it can lead to devastating blindness," she said. "Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in people of working age in industrialized countries and people with diabetes are 25 times more likely to become blind than the general population."

In fact, the statistics tell the story--the risk of diabetic eye disease increases the longer someone has diabetes. After 20 years of being diabetic, nearly 99 percent of patients with type 1 diabetes, and 60 percent with type 2, have some degree of diabetic eye disease.

Rudick added that the first changes in vision that a patient may notice are fluctuating vision, sustained blurred vision, poor night vision, missing or distorted areas within their vision, or new large floaters may occur in one or both eyes.

To emphasize the importance of the relationship of good health to an eye exam, she said the optometry clinic will soon send out postcard reminders to encourage people to schedule an annual eye exam.

While Lambert said he is probably the worst example of someone who takes a proactive role in his good health, he knows doing the right thing for his health is the most important job he has for him and his family.

"We are all so busy, at work and at home, that we don't take time to take care of ourselves and we come up with dozens of reasons to put off doctor's visits and exercise," he explained. "As important as we think we are at work, when we are gone, another worker will fall in behind us without missing a beat. I personally love my organization and my job but consistently have to remind myself that it doesn't trump my health and happiness."
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