Woman being tested for diabetic retinopathy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults. Diabetic retinopathy is a general term for all disorders of the retina caused by diabetes.

Diabetic retinopathy can go undetected without a thorough eye exam. This is because it often has no symptoms in its early stages. As diabetic retinopathy progresses, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • An increasing number of floaters
  • Blurry vision
  • Vision that changes from blurry to clear
  • Blank or dark areas in your field of vision
  • Poor night vision
  • Colors appear faded or washed out

Diabetic retinopathy symptoms usually affect both eyes.

Diabetics are at risk for permanent vision damage and even blindness if diabetic retinopathy is left untreated. However, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent diabetic eye disease, including:

  • Maintaining good blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol control.
  • Getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam and/or obtaining retinal photographs that are examined by an eye doctor at least once a year, or more often as recommended by the eye doctor.
  • Women with diabetes prior to pregnancy should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam early in their pregnancy. The eye doctor may recommend additional exams during pregnancy.
  • Keeping a healthy lifestyle that includes exercising regularly, not smoking, and following a healthy diet. Talk to a dietician about eating habits and a doctor before starting an exercise program.

Dr. Michael Vrabec of Valley Eye Associates says, “While diabetic retinopathy is a chronic disease, the good news is that by taking the necessary steps to manage the condition, including getting an annual eye exam, we can help to minimize the harmful effects on your vision.”

For more information about diabetic retinopathy, please visit the American Diabetes Association.

Dr. Salm, Dr. Vrabec, and Dr. Nowak wearing Christmas jackets

Get to know Dr. Daniel Nowak (pictured right), one of the optometrists on our Valley Eye Associates team!

What has been your favorite thing about working at Valley Eye Associates?

I like the variety. I may see something as straightforward as a routine eye exam, to someone with glaucoma, or other potentially blinding conditions and helping them. It makes me keep up-to-date in eye care to provide the best possible care I can. Plus, I like the great staff we have throughout the clinic, from the business office to patient services, techs and surgery schedulers, and to the doctors, who are easily accessible to consult with when asked.

How do you relax after a long day at work?

It depends on the time of year. During the warm-weather season, I like being outside doing yard work and keeping the yard looking sharp. During the cold-weather season, I like doing woodworking, which I am just starting to take up.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Christmas—the season for goodwill. The time of year that holds hope for humanity.

What is your favorite meal of the day? What would you be eating?

Lunch. I like the diverse restaurants in Appleton and getting to try something different.

What made you decide to go into optometry?

I always found vision and the eye to be fascinating. I decided in high school that being an optometrist was my destiny.

Valley Eye Associates is honored to once again partner with the Home Builders Association of the Fox Cities to collect new, unwrapped toys for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program. All toys collected in the Fox Cities will go to children in the Fox Cities area.

2018 Toys for Tots Local Impact: 16,906 toys distributed, 3,346 children supported

Starting Monday, November 11, new, unwrapped toys may be dropped off at the following Valley Eye Associates locations:

West Appleton
21 Park Place
Appleton, WI 54914

East Appleton
2100 S Kensington Drive, Suite 5
Appleton, WI 54915

Encircle Health
2500 E Capitol Drive, Suite 3500
Appleton, WI 54911

Oshkosh
719 Doctors Court
Oshkosh, WI 54901

Donations will be collected through Tuesday, December 10.

To make a financial donation, write a check to Toys for Tots and mail it or drop it off at:

HBA Fox Cities
920 W Association Drive
Appleton, WI 54914

Email toysfortots@hbafoxcities.com for additional information.

Thank you in advance for helping us spread joy to children in need this holiday season!

Man using his HSA card to pay for LASIK

A health savings account (HSA) or a flex spending account (FSA) is one of the best ways to save courtesy of Uncle Sam with triple tax benefits. You put money in on a tax-free basis (usually through salary deferrals), it builds up tax-free (you can invest it), and it comes out tax-free to cover out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. Depending on your tax bracket, that can save you 20% or more on eyeglasses, contacts, or even medical procedures like LASIK or High Definition Laser Cataract Surgery.

Health Savings Account (HSA)

You can contribute to an HSA if you’re in a qualifying high-deductible health plan at work. For 2020, that means a plan with a minimum annual deductible of $1,400 for individual coverage or $2,800 for family coverage. At a minimum, you should contribute enough to cover your deductible. Do you have an unexpected doctor’s bill? You can put money into your HSA, take it out right away, and the government just paid 25% of the bill. (The higher your tax bracket, the bigger your savings.) An HSA is a savings account that goes with you and funds stay in the account as long as it is open.

Flex Spending Account (FSA)

FSAs are a great way to pay for elective and non-elective procedures and cover deductibles and co-payments for medical services and prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs that have been prescribed by a doctor, all pre-tax. The funds from an FSA can be used toward the payment of certain authorized dental and vision expenses, including for dependents and spouses. So, depending on your tax bracket, that could end up being major savings! The only problem is that you have to use your FSA balance by the end of the year or risk losing it. So if you have an FSA, be sure to check your balance and then look at your options for an eye exam, vision correction surgery or even eyeglasses before the end of the year.

The good news is that consumers can save ($2,700 per person in an FSA) and even save more in an HSA depending on your plan, to pay for procedures you want. Think of this as an opportunity to access the procedures you need and save 20% or more by using flex spending or health savings account dollars.

Why Is This Important?

Elective procedures, like LASIK, PRK, Implantable Contact Lenses, and Refractive Lensectomy, are discretionary medical expenses. FSA and HSA accounts can help lower the cost of better vision with or without glasses or contact lenses.

Child having screen time on a tablet

The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending children under age 5, spend one hour or less on digital devices and those under age 1 spend no time at all on a daily basis. The WHO study refers to sedentary screen time, which includes watching television or videos, or playing computer games.

Screen Time Recommendations by Age

Infant (less than 1 year of age) Screen time is not recommended
1-2 years of age No screen time for a 1-year-old. No more than one hour for a 2-year-old, with less time preferred
3-4 years of age No more than one hour

Developing the ability to “use” vision starts at birth, says Glen Steele, O.D., professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, TN. When a baby watches a parent form words or point to objects, their actions lead to development of a baby’s “looking” process, which fosters their internal curiosity, he says. That curiosity leads to the baby wanting to get to an object out of reach and a desire to move toward it.

Symptoms of Screen Time Exposure

According to the Vision Council, 72% of American parents report their children routinely engage in more than two hours of screen time per day. 30% of parents report their children experience at least one of the following symptoms after being exposed to more than two hours of screen time per day:

  • Headaches
  • Neck/shoulder pain
  • Eye strain, dry or irritated eyes
  • Reduced attention span
  • Poor behavior
  • Irritability

Any of these symptoms could potentially affect academic performance and social interactions.

Vision-Related Problems for Children Ages 8 and up

According to Common Sense Media, children under age 8 now spend more than two hours a day with screen media. For 8 to 10-year-olds, screen time triples to six hours a day. And it’s not unusual for kids in middle school and high school to spend up to nine hours per day looking at digital displays.

Risks Associated with Too Much Screen Time

Children who spend multiple hours staring at digital devices are at risk of developing these vision-related problems:

  • Computer Vision Syndrome: Symptoms of computer vision syndrome include digital eye strain, including fluctuating vision, tired eyes, dry eyes, headache, and fatigue. Other non-visual symptoms of computer vision syndrome include neck, back, and shoulder pain.
  • Unhealthy Posture
  • Nearsightedness Development and Progression: The prevalence of myopia has grown significantly in the last few decades and this trend coincides with the increased use of computers and digital devices by children.
  • Increased Exposure to Blue Light: Emission by the LED screens of computers, tablets, smartphones, and other digital devices might increase a person’s risk of age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration later in life.

What to Do

While it’s not realistic to think that children will stop using modern technology, here are some easy things you can do:

  • Encourage Frequent Visual Breaks: Follow the “20-20-20” rule—every 20 minutes, take your eyes off your screen and look at something that’s at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
  • Encourage Frequent Posture Checks: Moving the head slowly to the right and left as well as up and down can relieve strained muscles and reduce fatigue.
  • Protect Their Eyes from Blue Light: It may be wise to take steps to reduce premature aging of the retina by limiting the amount of blue light exposure the eye receives throughout a lifetime.
  • Establish Media-Free Times: Break your child’s fixation on digital devices, reduce eye fatigue, and limit blue light exposure while using this time to connect as a family.
  • Schedule Annual Eye Exams: Schedule an exam prior to the start of every school year.
Stack of school supplies and a pair of kids' glasses

According to experts, up to 80% of the learning children do is through their eyes. Having an undiagnosed vision problem can hinder a child’s education, confidence, and ability to socialize. It can also subsequently affect their success later in life. Unlike adults, kids might not know how to explain what’s wrong. When you don’t know how other people see, it’s difficult to say you’re having trouble seeing the world around you.

Common Vision Symptoms

Children with vision problems are unlikely to tell their teachers and parents because they don’t realize the source of the problem. Parents can help by watching for some common symptoms:

  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Slow to finish schoolwork
  • Short attention span for close work
  • Tendency to fidget and look away from work
  • Frequent headaches
  • Tendency to cover one eye
  • Frequent blinking or eye-rubbing

When Should Children’s Eyes Be Examined?

Patient Age Examination Interval
Asymptomatic/Low Risk At Risk
Birth to 2 years At 6 to 12 months of age At 6 to 12 months of age or as recommended
3 through 5 years At least once between 3 and 5 years of age At least once between 3 and 5 years of age or as recommended
6 through 18 years Before first grade and annually thereafter Before first grade and annually, or as recommended, thereafter
Source: American Optometric Association

Comprehensive Eye Exams Go Beyond 20/20

A comprehensive eye exam at Valley Eye Associates goes beyond a simple screening performed at schools. It involves checking for color blindness, eye alignment (teaming), ocular motility (tracking), and depth perception. Valley Eye Associates will also provide a prescription for glasses, if needed.

Your family’s vision is important to us! Call (920) 739-4361 today to schedule an eye exam for your child and make sure they see their best this school year.

Mindy Harrington, OD

Mindy Harrington, OD

We’d like to welcome Dr. Mindy Harrington to the Valley Eye Associates team!

Dr. Harrington grew up in Ishpeming, MI. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Michigan Technological University and graduated summa cum laude. She went on to receive her Doctor of Optometry degree from Michigan College of Optometry at Ferris State University, where she graduated with distinction.

Dr. Harrington was active in many organizations during optometry school, including Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (SVOSH). In 2018, she took a mission trip to La Esperanza, Honduras to provide eye care to underserved members of the community. She is currently a member of the American Optometric Association and the Wisconsin Optometric Association.

Dr. Harrington has wanted to be an optometrist since she was in middle school. She loves being able to help patients better understand their eye health.  Her optometric interests include care for the whole family, contact lenses, and ocular disease.

In her free time, Dr. Harrington enjoys any activity that allows her to spend time with her family. She also enjoys being outside, playing tennis, crafting, and reading.

Dr. Harrington wants to help each and every patient achieve and maintain the best vision possible. She is excited to join and serve the community of Northeast Wisconsin.

Father and son enjoying a canoe ride

There are many reasons why people are interested in LASIK, but one of the biggest is improving their vision with reduced dependence on glasses and contact lenses. Some—like pilots, first responders, and athletes—turn to LASIK for work. Others enjoy an active lifestyle and want to follow their passions. You may measure your LASIK success by the pure pleasure of having around-the-clock vision and the freedom to do without contacts—or never having to search the nightstand to find your glasses in the middle of the night again.

Here are some more reasons the convenience of LASIK may be right for you:

  • Participating in sports leagues
  • Hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities
  • Swimming or hitting the beach
  • Graduating from college
  • Getting married
  • Raising children 
  • Traveling the world
  • Pursuing a career (military, law enforcement, etc.)

LASIK can transform your life! No matter what your reason, there may well be a LASIK success story waiting for you.

Take the first step and come in for a Free VIP iLASIK Consultation. By talking with one of our surgery counselors, you can find out if you’re a good candidate for LASIK. They can help you understand what to expect from the procedure and what your experience will be like before, during, and after surgery.

Source: American Refractive Surgery Council

25 years ago, we welcomed a visionary to our team. In his time at Valley Eye Associates, Dr. Michael Vrabec has led the way for eye care innovation in Wisconsin and completed thousands of surgeries. We’d like to thank Dr. Vrabec for his hard work, success, and incredible ability to care for his patients.

Here are a few special notes from staff members:

“It’s an honor to work with Dr. Vrabec. He is one of the most genuine and kind people you will ever meet. He is a phenomenal surgeon, with skills that are unparalleled to others. I’m proud to work with someone who is an exceptionally talented ophthalmologist and has a heart of gold. I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else. Congratulations, Dr. Vrabec, I look forward to seeing where you take Valley Eye Associates in the future and wish you all the best.”

“I’d like to thank Dr. Vrabec for his 25 years of service to the Fox Valley and beyond! His knowledge and experience are second-to-none. I also greatly appreciate the worldwide mission work he participates in. Dr. Vrabec is truly passionate about providing the best vision possible for every human being.”

“I have worked side by side with Dr. Vrabec 23 of the 25 years he has been here. I have learned so much from him over the years. He continues to teach me new things every day. He is such a skilled surgeon, and his energy and passion for eye care is astonishing. He is a great leader for the VEA team.”

“Dr. Vrabec is an excellent employer. I not only think of him as someone that I work for, but also as a teacher. He is always willing to take a step back with you and show you the “why” behind what we do. He is never too busy for a question and has a way of explaining things that just makes sense. I appreciate the time he takes to thoroughly explain things, as that is just the way my head operates. I have to know why, in order for it to “click”! He is a remarkable surgeon and it’s an honor to work under someone as knowledgeable and as talented as Dr. V!”

“I greatly appreciate the opportunity Dr. Vrabec has given me all these years at VEA. I have learned and grown a lot as an employee and person, being in his presence. Congrats on your 25 years with VEA!”

Happy anniversary, Dr. Vrabec!

Senior woman teaching her granddaughter how to ride a bike

Cataract surgery is a procedure to remove your eye’s clouded lens and replaces it with an artificial lens to restore clear vision. When the presence of your cataracts interferes with your daily activities, surgery is likely the best option.

The team at Valley Eye Associates has performed over 55,000 surgical procedures over a combined 50 years of experience. Our expertise and commitment to excellence helps us provide a premium cataract surgery experience to all patients. Valley Eye Associates offers the following cataract surgery options:

Traditional Cataract Surgery

  • Corneal incisions are made manually by your surgeon.
  • A traditional replacement lens eliminates dimmed, fuzzy vision caused by cataracts.
  • The procedure is covered by Medicare; you will still need corrective lenses, especially for near vision.

High Definition Laser Cataract SurgeryTM

  • Corneal incisions are made with a laser for a more precise cut.
  • Advanced lens options not only replace the clouded cataracts, but also address other vision problems like astigmatism, nearsightedness or farsightedness.
  • High Definition Laser Cataract Surgery may eliminate the need for glasses or contacts for many or most activities.
  • A portion of the procedure is covered by Medicare. Additional fees may apply.

Intraocular Lens (IOL) Options

There are more IOL options available than ever before, and choosing the proper IOL for your vision goals and lifestyle will ensure you are completely satisfied with the outcome of your cataract surgery. You will meet with your surgeon to discuss your vision goals and determine which lens best fits your lifestyle.

Monofocal IOLs

A monofocal IOL is an advanced acrylic lens that focuses vision on a single point. This lens will allow you to see clearly at one distance and require you to wear glasses or contact lenses to see at other distances. Many people who choose this lens decide they want to see clearly in the distance and wear reading glasses for near vision (cell phone) or intermediate vision (speedometer). Valley Eye Associates is proud to feature the TECNIS Monofocal Lens and the Alcon Acrysof in its cataract program.

TORIC IOLs

For patients with moderate or advanced astigmatism, the TORIC IOL is an excellent option when combined with HDLCS to achieve clear vision at one distance (usually far) without glasses or contact lenses.

Multifocal IOLs

A multifocal IOL is a premium clear lens that features concentric focus rings, allowing you to focus and see clearly at multiple distances after surgery. The goal of a multifocal lens is to help you see near, far, and everything in between to reduce or eliminate your need for glasses or contact lenses. Multifocal IOLs are a fantastic option for those willing to invest in lens technology for a more active and spectacle-free lifestyle.

ORA Intraoperative Technology Benefits

ORA is a powerful tool for improving your cataract surgery, and Dr. Vrabec, Dr. Salm, Dr. Unger and the team at Valley Eye Associates is the first in the region to offer this exciting technology.

  • ORA allows your surgeon to accurately review your vision during your cataract procedure
  • ORA offers measurements for more accurate calculations to guide your cataract procedure
  • VerifEye+ Technology validates the ORA data in real-time during your surgery, adding another layer of precision
  • ORA is clinically proven to result in more consistent accuracy for your cataract procedure, leading to higher patient satisfaction
  • ORA is highly beneficial for patients with astigmatism, as well as patients who have had previous eye surgery, such as LASIK or PRK
  • ORA reduces the need for follow-up treatments after your cataract surgery

Want to learn more about High Definition Laser Cataract Surgery? Join us for our next Live Cataract Seminar with Dr. Michael Vrabec at Pinnacle Cataract & Laser Institute:

Tuesday, September 24
5:00 pm

Wednesday, November 13
5:00 pm