Dr. Andrea Liem with a patient at the ICHS Vision Clinic. Photo courtesy of ICHS.

Everyone, even people with perfect vision, should schedule regular eye exams, says Dr. Andrea Liem, optometrist at the International Community Health Services (ICHS) Vision Clinic. An exam could reveal clues into undiagnosed issues, especially for those with chronic conditions such as diabetes.

Located in the Chinatown-International District, the Vision Clinic serves many Asian Pacific Islanders, who are at a higher risk of diabetes. Dr. Liem sees a number of patients for preventative diabetic eye exams. One in 10 Americans has the disease. It can lead to an eye condition called diabetic retinopathy and blinding eye complications if untreated. While a yearly eye exam can prevent 95% of diabetes-related vision loss, only 60% of people schedule one as recommended by the American Diabetes Association.

“The single most important strategy for treating diabetic retinopathy is prevention,” said Dr. Liem. “Once a patient is diagnosed with diabetes, their doctor will recommend a baseline eye exam. I will do a routine checkup and continue to monitor for any vision changes.”

Because diabetes is a “silent disease” without symptoms, it is not uncommon for Dr. Liem to be the first to catch it. She then helps schedule a follow up with the patient’s primary care physician.

“Many patients will develop diabetic retinopathy before they are diagnosed with diabetes,” she said.

The American Optometric Association recommends eye exams at least once every two years, and more frequently for people who have a job or hobby that strains the eyes, family history of vision conditions or other health issues that can impact the eyes. Unfortunately, not everyone follows this advice.

“I get patients all the time that are getting their first eye exam at 65 years old,” said Dr. Liem. “They’ll show up and say, ‘I have no problems but I’ve never had my eyes checked and I’m just curious to see if anything is going on.’ Then I’ll find there are a lot of things going on.”

ICHS Vision Clinic staff speak Mandarin and Cantonese in addition to English. “Our Chinese community members appreciate having a team that is familiar with their culture, language and lifestyle,” said Dr. Liem.

The ICHS Vision Clinic is currently accepting new patients. The clinic offers complete eye exam services, including prescriptions for glasses and referrals for specialty care. A complete pair of glasses costs just $70 to $100 through a special value package. Most major insurance plans, including Medicaid, are accepted. Uninsured patients are welcome and a sliding fee discount is available to those who qualify. Call 206-788-3505 to make an appointment or for more information.

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