FORT POLK, La. –
June is Men’s Health Month and the Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital public affairs officer discussed the topic of men’s health with providers and health care professionals at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Capt. Yuhang Chen is an optometrist in the BJACH eyes, ears, nose and throat department. Chen discusses his personal and professional opinions on the subject and why it’s important to highlight the topic in June and throughout the year.
Question: Dr. Chen, why is it important to highlight men’s health?
Answer: As a man myself, I think we like to portray ourselves as strong and fearless to society, friends, family and significant others. We tend to under emphasis our own health concerns. From my personal experience, I have not had a routine health exam for at least two years even though that is the wrong thing to do. I always feel that I am healthy and have not noticed anything wrong with my body. I, like many men, am always focused on my job, hobbies and relationships, therefore health concerns become a lesser priority. It is important to use this month to make me, and others like me, more aware of our health, not just for ourselves but also for our friends and family. Men need to know that we are more susceptible than women to various health issues like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and hypertension.
Question: What are some things you do personally to maintain a healthy life style?
Answer: To maintain a healthy life style, there are three areas that men can’t ignore. One, have a strong body; I like to go to the gym five times per week and do a 5-10 mile run at least once per week. Two, reduce stress; it can weaken our immune system and put us at a disadvantage in our battle against illness. Taking the weekend to enjoy our hobbies is a great way to de-stress from a week of work. Three, steer clear of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and drinking alcohol will greatly increase our risk for hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Question: What advice to you have to other men about the importance of their health?
Answer: As men, we have a lot of responsibilities. We are the backbone of our families, essential team players at our work place, and an import part of our social circles. Having a healthy body is not just important to ourselves but also to others in our circle.
Question: As an optometrist how can a person’s eye health be an indicator of other health concerns?
Answer: Eyes are one of the most essential organ in our body, not just because they provide us with the ability to see the world, but also because subtle changes in components of the eye can be early indicators of other systemic conditions. For example, narrowing blood vessels in eye is an early indication of hypertension. Small hemorrhage spots in the back of the eye can be early indication of diabetes, and subtle yellowing of white part of the eye can point to liver issues. The list goes on with more serious conditions like cancer, HIV, thyroid issues and other diseases.
Question: What are some issues you encounter on a regular basis with your male patients that may indicate more serious health concerns?
Answer: While hypertensive and diabetic retinopathy are common eye diseases that I see in older males, “normal tension glaucoma” is more common in younger healthy male soldiers than female soldiers.
Glaucoma is an eye condition that damages the optic nerve located in the back of the eye, resulting in loss of peripheral vision and can encroach on our central vision in late stages of the disease. Even though the majority of glaucoma cases are associated with high eye pressure, there are patients who suffer glaucomatous damage even in the normal pressure range, intraocular pressure (IOP) of 10 to 21, thus the name “normal tension glaucoma.” This condition is not only detrimental to vision, it is also associated with various serious systemic conditions like sleep apnea and cardiovascular diseases.
When I encounter these seemingly healthy young males who are exhibiting signs of having normal tension glaucoma, I will order a sleep study. Quite often these tests come back positive. This will then initiate a full work up to rule out cardiovascular conditions.
Question: Why is it important to have annual eye exams in general? For men in particular?
Answer: Annual eye exams with dilation is an essential part of health assessment and disease prevention because good vision does not equal healthy eyes.
Our visual acuity (clearness of our vision) is mainly coming from a structure called macula located in the center of the retina (the back portion of our eye). However, macula only occupies about 10% of the retina, so diseases affecting the other 90% of the retina can easily go unnoticed in our daily life. Diseases like glaucoma, retinal breaks, tears and holes, choroidal melanoma, diabetic and hypertensive retinopathy don’t usually affect our macula in early stages, but can also cause serious damage to our ocular health if they are not diagnosed in time.
A dilated eye exam is the only way for us to fully assess all areas of the retina and make these early detections. According to the CDC, hypertension and diabetes are more common in men than women. This dilated retinal examination is more important in men for early detection of retinopathy.
Additionally, men are more likely to engage in physical activities like boxing, wrestling and other exercises that can result in retinal tears and holes, so annual eye exams become more important for men.
Question: As we age, our eye sight seems to go (at least mine does). Why is it important to keep our eyes healthy? For overall health? For quality of life?
Answer: Getting our eyes examined annually and keeping them healthy becomes especially important as we age because most of vision-threatening conditions like glaucoma, cataract and macular degeneration become more prevalent with aging.
Early defection serves an important role in monitoring and appropriately treating these condition. With aging also comes reduced mobility. Elders tend to stay home the majority of the time. Therefore, having good vision and being able to enjoy television shows, movies, reading books and newspapers play an important role in improving their quality of life.
Editor’s note: This is part one of a five part series that will be posted at https://bayne-jones.tricare.mil and the Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital Facebook page every Wednesday in June for Men’s Health Awareness month.