As we exit May and enter summer, I thought we would take a minute to discuss Eye health. May is Vision Health month and we thought we would talk about eye health, eye protection and some common eye issues that we deal with every day. We often talk about what we should do for our general health but rarely do we talk about eye health and what we should do for our eyes.
The eyes are absolutely amazing, just think about it, we have objects in front of us and that image is projected to our eyes and that vision is converted into electrical impulses which are transferred to the brain along the optic nerve and we “see things”. The eye is so complex, it allows us to see in near dork by dilating the pupil, it allows us to see far distances and up close as well by manipulating the lens in our eye. Think of the eye as a camera that has auto focus, the brain decides how the eye should react based on what we want to look at. As we age we find that the manipulation of the eye naturally does not work as well and we need assistance to correct wear the images hit our eyes and we wear glasses. Having healthy vision allows us to enjoy one of the senses that enriches our lives. For those of us with vision we are so fortunate and often take it for granted, but we also need to understand that there are over 1 million Americans who are legally blind in the United States.
Let’s share some key vision stats
1.) 145 million adults wear prescription eye correction
2.) 65% uses glasses and 20% use contact lenses, the remainder wear a combo including sunglasses
3.) 25 million Americans have cataracts
4.) 3 million have Glaucoma
5.) There are close to 50,000 cornea transplants done each year in the US
6.) Computer eye strain is the #1 source of vision complaints in workplace
7.) One out of every 4 children has a vision problem, many not diagnosed timely
8.) , now many more have some vision problems, estimates are that 75% of adults use some sort of eye vision correction, this is close to 150 million adults wearing some type of eye correction.
Vision correction- 145 million people wear some form of eye correction, which allows us to have much better vision than we would without correction. The eye glasses are thought to have been invented in Italy in the 1300’s. Many try to give Ben Franklin credit for inventing eyeglasses but they had been around for 400 years, he did however make the first bifocal.
Vision correction has obviously advanced dramatically, we now have Lasik surgery which for many individuals eliminated the need for contacts or glasses. We now have bifocal contact lens, that eliminate the need for reading glasses. We have glasses that transition from clear lens to sunglasses as we enter a sunlight area. Amazing the changes that have been made.
Eye protection- many people will think of eye protection and consider it just in an occupational setting where individuals needing eye protection to prevent damage to eyes from toxic fluids or from direct trauma to the eye. There are many worksites that require eye protecting in the workplace. Although it may be seen as a hassle, the protection to the eye is key as it is quire fragile. The body tries to protect the eye as much as it can, we have bones that are quite strong that surround our eyes and a unique part of our body is the weak bone that our eye sits on. The eye socket has a weak bone on the bottom, this is by design. If one is to be struck directly in the eye the bone below the eye will break and allow the eye to be pushed into that area without damaging the eye itself. This is termed a Blowout fracture. The blow out fracture allows for the possibility of major trauma to the eye but with a result of no loss of vision.
We also wear eye protection to prevent any fluids from getting in the eye. Many professions are working with toxic materials and need to wear eye protection to prevent exposure of the fragile portion of the eye to a toxic chemical. In the medical field we are concerned with infectious fluids getting splashed in the eye causing a chance of the spread of an illness or disease.
We often do not think of sunglasses as protection of eyes, just comfort. Sunglasses are definitely eye protection and should be used more often by all of us. In the ideal setting we would all wear sunglasses daily, even during overcast days in the summer when our eyes are exposed to damaging ultraviolet rays. Good sunglasses will protect your eyes from harmful UV light, think about what we say about sunblock, pick a good product that protects from both UVA and UVB rays, and wear it every day, if you are not a sunglass person, wearing a hat with a brim will also protect your eyes.
Eye Health- what can we do every day to maximize your eye health as you age.
Diet- a diet that has a good balance is needed for eye health. We know that Vitamin A and Vitamin C are good antioxidant vitamins and needed for eye health. Green leafy vegetables and fish are also good for eye health. We think about the impact of fat and cholesterol on our heart, the same happens with our eyes so a well-balanced diet will allow for continued good blood flow to the eyes. There are many good vitamins for the eyes, I personally use Occuvite with Lutein, this is a vitamin that is specific for eye health. Checking your vitamin to see if there is 20 mg Lutein is a good idea. Lutein is found in leafy green vegetables, grapes and orange juice to name a few foods that are good for your eye health so eating them may help you hit your dietary needs for eye health
Basics- Quit smoking. Smoking exposes your eyes to stress, including vascular stress just as it does in heart disease. Smoking Impacts so many parts of our body but the impact on the eye is often not discussed or considered.
We talk about the importance of washing our hands as a way to stop spreading infections between individuals, well washing your hands is also important for your own eye health, the same viruses that we don’t want to share with others are often the same ones that can cause infections in the eye, like pink eye. We all touch our face and rub our eyes more than we realize each day, this allows for the opportunity to spread a virus from our hands to our eyes. Infections often start in one eye and are moved to the other eye by us touching the infected eye and then touching the non-infected eye.
What is pink eye- the medical term is Conjunctivitis, just like many other medical terms, adding the “itis” on to the end of many words implies inflammation which is often an infection. The unique thing about conjunctivitis or pink eye is that the conjunctiva or white portion of the eye has very little sensation. So although your eye may be red and draining the individual does not even know it until someone asks “what is wrong with your eye?” The infection in the eye that causes the conjunctiva to be inflamed can be caused by a virus or a bacteria, so your doctor will often place you on eye drops for this infection.
The eye is built for function in many situations, the pupil will dilate or constrict based on the amount of light the eye has to work with, this allows us to see in a dark environment and allows for bright sunlight not to bother us as much as it really should. The interesting thing is that the cornea, which is the protective layer above the pupil and the lens thus allowing for vision to occur has many nerves, this is in contrast to the conjunctiva or white portion of our eye. The nerves are there as a way the body protects its vision, if we get a piece of dirt on the cornea it may feel like a huge rock and be painful with each blink, the body is doing this to make us aware of something foreign possibly blocking our vision. The nerves of the cornea protect our vision and make you seek treatment to protect it. Once the irritant is removed the body will rapidly repair the cornea.
Cataracts- we all have a lens in our eye, it helps us focus and acts to magnify as well. The lens is clear which aids in accurate vision. As we age the lens may end up with some clouding of the lens, this is known as a cataract. They are very common in individuals over the age of 80. This is a natural aging process. A cataract is essentially a clumping of protein in the lens and as we age the clouding may become larger and impact our vision. There are concerns that smoking and diabetes increases your chance of a cataract forming. Individuals with cataracts may have cloudy vision, poor night vision, headlights may bother you more, you may see halos and colors seem faded.
Treatment of cataracts- initially cataracts may be treated with changing your eyeglasses, staying in a brightly lit area and wearing anti-glare sunglasses. Often these treatments are good for a period of time at which time surgery becomes necessary. Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgery. The surgery is to remove the lens and replace it with an artificial lens. This is one of the safest and most effective surgeries performed, many patients actually do not need glasses after the surgery.
Two other quick topics on eye health- One is that studies have shown that correcting vision in seniors improves long term brain health, mental health and social health. Numerous studies have shown that improving and monitoring vision in seniors has a big impact on their health. It may be having cataract surgery, it may just be a new set of glasses, but that improvement has a profound impact on their health. Some of the impact is that seniors with vision are able to stay active both socially and physically. They are also able to keep their cognitive skills up with reading, puzzles and something as simple as watching the news. 40% of those over the age of 78 needed glasses or a new prescription for glasses.
And finally, studies have shown that dark chocolate will help your vision and it happens quite quickly. So if you know you need your vision to be at its best, eat some dark chocolate two hours before. Just another reason to eat dark chocolate