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Optometrist and radio star Dr Allan Ared, left, with radio host Jono Coleman at 2UE’s Sydney studio
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By Helen Carter
Journalist

Sydney optometrist Dr Allan Ared has been on a mission ever since he did his first radio segment on eyes 20 years ago; to promote eye health and promote optometrists as “the GPs of eyes”.

Over two decades he has helped to educate and inform the public about eye conditions and even saved the sight of listeners whose symptoms pointed to conditions such as a torn retina or age-related macular degeneration.

‘It’s the longest-running regular segment about eyes and eye care on radio in Australia,’ Dr Ared told Optometry Australia.

‘My aim on the show is to promote eye care and eye health to the public, and to promote optometrists as being like a GP for the eye and encourage people to see optometrists first for anything to do with their eyes.

‘I’ve tried to drive home that message for the past 20 years and have hopefully been able to help change the perception of the community to show that optometrists don’t just prescribe glasses but can help with any eye issue including eye diseases.

‘I think the show has been successful in many ways.’

During the weekly Wednesday night session, which is transmitted nationwide, Dr Ared takes an average 25 to 30 calls from listeners asking questions about eyes, eye issues and eye problems.

Most common topics

While the most asked question is about floaters, Dr Ared said the most common topics that radio listeners ask about, bearing in mind that listeners to AM talk-back radio at night are probably older generations, are:

  • Cataracts
  • Laser vision (such as Lasik)
  • AMD
  • Computers and vision
  • Dry eye/watery eye
  • Presbyopia, or as he calls it ‘The Birthday Syndrome’ because people often get it around their 43rd to 45th birthday.

Dr Ared’s first radio segment in 1998, three years after graduating in optometry from the University of New South Wales, was due to a chance meeting.

He had just given a talk to some local GPs and a GP in the audience, who did a talk-back radio segment on general practice, approached him and suggested he do an eye show on radio.

‘The station the GP was on – Sydney’s top rating news station 2GB – told me to come in one night and I thought I was just being interviewed but the host put me straight on air with listeners calling in with eye problems so I was thrown in at the deep end,’ he said.

‘There were a lot of callers so they put me on again a few weeks later and eventually it became a weekly session called All About Eyes.

‘Over the years it has generally just been open line for people to call in and discuss eye problems but occasionally there will be a theme, such as for macular degeneration or glaucoma awareness weeks.’

He has also had guests on the show, including experts in certain conditions and ophthalmologists.

He feels he has been instrumental in helping to spread the message that a healthy diet including leafy green vegetables and fish can help prevent AMD. He has also promoted dry eye products and specific antioxidant vitamins for AMD.

‘The eye is 22 millimetres from front to back and more things can go wrong with it than you can imagine, so week to week answering questions about eye issues takes up the whole segment,’ he said.

‘I still get questions I’ve never had before such as interesting dystrophies of the cornea and retina.’

Advice has saved sight

Dr Ared said it was rewarding knowing that some of the advice he had given had saved sight.

‘Some people ring up and they can be quite lonely listening at home, they have no-one to talk to or turn to and giving them advice can be very rewarding, especially if you give advice and two or three weeks later they call back and say they took that advice and it turned out to be a torn retina after experiencing flashes or wet age-related macular degeneration,’ he said.

‘It’s good to be able to help and comforting knowing we can offer advice based on what they tell us.’

Dr Ared said optometrists were trained to listen.

‘The most significant thing an optometrist can do in a consulting room is to take an accurate history,’ he said. ‘This is more important than anything else.’

He said accents were also important and could help determine if patients were at higher risk of certain eye conditions.

Dr Ared said hosting the radio session honed the importance of accents in helping diagnose eye conditions, as listening to people talk and trying to determine the region they were from could provide hints about eye conditions.

‘For example if I hear a Filipino accent, I know that they may have presbyopia earlier because they have traditionally lived near the equator, while people of Asian descent are more likely to have closed angle glaucoma than open angle glaucoma and a Russian accent means they are more likely to be predisposed to pseudoexfoliation syndrome,’ he said.

Listeners nationwide

Analytics show that about one in four people who listen to radio in Sydney at night listen to the Sydney show but now that the show has gone national, the audience has been boosted by thousands.

Two years ago a merger between Macquarie Media and Southern Cross saw news and current affairs remain at 2GB and lifestyle and variety shows move from 2GB to 2UE. Dr Ared’s segment changed its name from All About Eyes to Eyes in Focus.

The move also gave the show a national audience, with listeners tuning in from Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Canberra as well as Sydney.

With the move, the show gained a new host, Jono Coleman.

‘He’s the funniest man I’ve ever met and a good host for the show because it’s supposed to be educational and informative but also be entertaining,’ Dr Ared said.

‘I would encourage other optometrists to do similar things to promote optometry and eye care.’

Dr Ared works part time in his practice Omni Eye Centre in Kogarah, and part-time at UNSW completing his PhD on the effect of eye rubbing on corneal trauma, including keratoconus. He is therapeutically endorsed and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry.

Allan Ared’s Eyes in Focus radio segment airs from 9pm AEDT Wednesdays on Sydney’s 2UE (954 on the AM dial), Brisbane’s Magic (882), Melbourne’s Magic (1278), Perth’s Talking Lifestyle Digital app and Canberra’s Talking Lifestyle Digital app. Check out this recent podcast.

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