Which of your five senses is considered as the most valuable?.Most of us are well aware of the five senses bestowed to us through which we interact with our environment, i.e. vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch, right?
Sure, each of these senses is invaluable in its own right, but vision is considered to be the most important of all, as it is used to perceive about 80% of all impressions. So, now you are getting a better idea of why you should tend to your eye health much more seriously, and if not, it is going to hurt your pocket as well. Why may you ask?
Wondering how? Let me refer you to a study titled ‘The Economic Burden of Vision Loss and Eye Disorders in the United States’, according to which vision problems cost the US government about $139 billion annually. In fact, neglecting eye care not only affects you financially, it also affects your quality of life. One in six American adults (aged 45 and above) suffer from one or the other type of eye problems and the risks associated with vision loss only grow as you age.
More than 4.2 million Americans aged 40 years and older are either legally blind (having best-corrected visual acuity of 6/60 or worse (=20/200) in the better-seeing eye) or are with low vision (having best-corrected visual acuity less than 6/12 (<20/40) in the better-seeing eye, excluding those who were categorised as being blind). The leading causes of blindness and low vision in the United States are primarily age-related eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Other common eye disorders include amblyopia and strabismus. To learn more about these disorders read more below:
Refractive errors are the most frequent eye problems in the United States. Refractive errors include myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism (distorted vision at all distances), and presbyopia that occurs between age 40–50 years (loss of the ability to focus up close, inability to read letters of the phone book, need to hold newspaper farther away to see clearly) can be corrected by eyeglasses, contact lenses, or in some cases surgery. The National Eye Institute states that proper refractive correction could improve vision among 150 million Americans.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration, often called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is an eye disorder associated with aging and results in damaging sharp and central vision. Central vision is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving. AMD affects the macula, the central part the retina that allows the eye to see fine details. There are two forms of AMD—wet and dry. Wet AMD is when abnormal blood vessel behind the retina start to grow under the macula, ultimately leading to blood and fluid leakage. Bleeding, leaking, and scarring from these blood vessels cause damage and lead to rapid central vision loss. An early symptom of wet AMD is that straight lines appear wavy. Dry AMD is when the macula thins overtime as part of aging process, gradually blurring central vision. The dry form is more common and accounts for 70–90% of cases of AMD and it progresses more slowly than the wet form. Over time, as less of the macula functions, central vision is gradually lost in the affected eye. Dry AMD generally affects both eyes. One of the most common early signs of dry AMD is drusen. It is estimated that 1.8 million Americans aged 40 years and older are affected by AMD and an additional 7.3 million with large drusen are at substantial risk of developing AMD. The number of people with AMD is estimated to reach 2.95 million in 2020. AMD is the leading cause of permanent impairment of reading and fine or close-up vision among people aged 65 years and older.
Cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens and is the leading cause of blindness worldwide, and the leading cause of vision loss in the United States. Cataracts can occur at any age because of a variety of causes, and can be present at birth. Although treatment for the removal of cataract is widely available, access barriers such as insurance coverage, treatment costs, patient choice, or lack of awareness prevent many people from receiving the proper treatment. An estimated 20.5 million (17.2%) Americans aged 40 years and older have cataract in one or both eyes, and 6.1 million (5.1%) have had their lens removed operatively. The total number of people who have cataracts is estimated to increase to 30.1 million by 2020.
Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a common complication of diabetes. It is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. It is characterised by progressive damage to the blood vessels of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that is necessary for good vision. DR progresses through four stages, mild non-proliferative retinopathy (microaneurysms), moderate non-proliferative retinopathy (blockage in some retinal vessels), severe non-proliferative retinopathy (more vessels are blocked leading to deprived retina from blood supply leading to growing new blood vessels), and proliferative retinopathy (most advanced stage). Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes. The risks of DR are reduced through disease management that includes good control of blood sugar, blood pressure, and lipid abnormalities. Early diagnosis of DR and timely treatment reduce the risk of vision loss; however, as many as 50% of patients are not getting their eyes examined or are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective. It is the leading cause of blindness among U.S. working-aged adults aged 20–74 years. An estimated 4.1 million and 899,000 Americans are affected by retinopathy and vision-threatening retinopathy, respectively.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises. However, recent findings now show that glaucoma can occur with normal eye pressure. With early treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss. There are two major categories “open angle” and “closed angle” glaucoma. Open angle, is a chronic condition that progress slowly over long period of time without the person noticing vision loss until the disease is very advanced, that is why it is called “sneak thief of sight.” Angle closure can appear suddenly and is painful. Visual loss can progress quickly; however, the pain and discomfort lead patients to seek medical attention before permanent damage occurs.
Amblyopia, also referred to as “lazy eye,” is the most common cause of vision impairment in children. Amblyopia is the medical term used when the vision in one of the eyes is reduced because the eye and the brain are not working together properly. The eye itself looks normal, but it is not being used normally because the brain is favouring the other eye. Conditions leading to amblyopia include strabismus, an imbalance in the positioning of the two eyes; more nearsighted, farsighted, or astigmatic in one eye than the other eye, and rarely other eye conditions such as cataract. Unless it is successfully treated in early childhood amblyopia usually persists into adulthood, and is the most common cause of permanent one-eye vision impairment among children and young and middle-aged adults. An estimated 2%–3% of the population suffer from amblyopia.
Strabismus involves an imbalance in the positioning of the two eyes. Strabismus can cause the eyes to cross in (esotropia) or turn out (exotropia). Strabismus is caused by a lack of coordination between the eyes. As a result, the eyes look in different directions and do not focus simultaneously on a single point. In most cases of strabismus in children, the cause is unknown. In more than half of these cases, the problem is present at or shortly after birth (congenital strabismus). When the two eyes fail to focus on the same image, there is reduced or absent depth perception and the brain may learn to ignore the input from one eye, causing permanent vision loss in that eye (one type of amblyopia).
If eye problems like cataract, low vision, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy make you cringe, you better protect your eyesight, because a little eye care now will go a long way in maintaining your eyesight in later years of your life. One of the best ways is to follow these 10 tips for optimal eye health.
1. Healthy Diet Healthy Eyesight
Yes, it starts as simple as that; you are what you eat and so is your eyesight. Foods rich in nutrients like vitamin C and E, zinc, lutein and omega-3 fatty acids strengthen your eyes against age-related eye problems like cataracts and macular degeneration. Some great foods for eye health include: Vegetables: Leafy green veggies like spinach, collards and kale Fish: Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel Fruits: Citrus fruits like lemons, grapefruits and oranges Non-meat protein sources: Eggs, nuts and beans
2. Quit Smoking
Haven’t been able to quit smoking yet? Need some added motivation? What about not getting cataracts, macular degeneration and uveitis (in addition to various other health issues)? Research suggest that the likelihood of smokers getting affected from these debilitating eye conditions increases twice to thrice. So, here is to those of you who like their eyesight more than a cigarette.
3: Shades are Helpful
If you considered sunglasses a mere fashion accessory, think again. A right pair of shades can help you stay away from cataracts, macular degeneration and pinguecula by blocking out sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays. A good pair of UV protection sunglasses can block 99 – 100% of harmful UV rays. In case you are wondering, UV protection contact lenses are also available.
4. The Power of Protective Eyewear
Safety glasses are highly recommended if you are exposed to some sort of hazardous airborne materials at job or even at home. Not only that, resort to protective glasses if you are into sports like ice hockey, lacrosse or squash/racquetball.
5: Avoid Excessive Exposure to Computer Screens
In addition to causing neck, back and shoulder pain, staring too long at a computer/phone screen can affect your eye health severely. Some of the eye problems you can get from excessive exposure to computer/phone screens include: Eyestrain Dry eyes Blurry vision Long distance focus issues Some protective measures include: +Updating your glasses or contacts prescription for screen exposure +Seeking proper medical care in case of prolonged eyestrain and considering computer glasses for computer use +Choosing a comfortable supportive chair and positioning it where your feet lie flat on the floor +Blinking more if your eyes dry up +Following 20-20-20 rule where you rest your eyes every 20 minutes by looking 20 feet away for 20 seconds continuously +Taking 15-minutes breaks every 2 hours and getting up from your chair is also recommended
6: Incorporate Blinking Breaks
Don’t only blame computers and phone screens for eyestrain. Books and written documents can also cause eyestrain when looked upon for extended periods. So, make sure to get your head up, look away from the docs and just blink your eyes for a few seconds to relieve the strain.
7: Consult Eye Doctor Regularly
Never undermine the significance of a regular eye exam. Your eyes need specialized care because they are one of the most sophisticated organs in your body. Spotting eye diseases like glaucoma is quite challenging. Only an eye specialist will be able to do so appropriately using the required knowledge, experience, tools and techniques. Experts recommend having a comprehensive eye exam at least once every two years. Some of the essential components of a comprehensive eye exam might include: +Vision tests to determine farsightedness/nearsightedness, presbyopia (changes in vision due to aging process), astigmatism (blurred vision caused by a curved cornea) +Tests to determine coordination between both eyes +Optic nerve and eye pressure tests to spot glaucoma +Microscopic and external eye examination before and after dilation
8: Be Vigilant about Eye Problems
Periodically visiting your eye doctor is a great routine to follow, but don’t rely solely on that; it’s your eye health on stake. Be vigilant about your eyesight and keep looking for any changes in your vision. Some red flags to look for include:
- Hazy vision
- Double vision
- Problem seeing in low light conditions
- Red eyes for prolong time periods
- Constant eye pain and swelling
- Frequent flashes of light
If any of these signs and symptoms prevail, consult your eye doctor immediately for detailed investigation into the matter.
9: Consider Your Family Health History
Of all other factors, you might also be simply unlucky to get an unwanted eye ailment, because many eye diseases cluster in families. For instance, a family history of high blood pressure or diabetes means increased risk of suffering from an eye disease. So, take your family’s eye diseases’ history seriously and discuss it with your eye doctor in order to avoid becoming another unsuspecting victim.
10: Fresh Air
The benefits of fresh air shall not be confined to lungs and heart. Fresh air directly supplies oxygen to the corneas in your eyes, because they lack their own oxygen supply mechanism. So, make sure to let your eyes soak in as much of fresh air as possible.
11: Avoid Rubbing Your Eyes
Oddly enough, a huge majority of people seem to be nurturing the habit of rubbing their eyes every other minute. For many of them, eye-rubbing turns into an irritating habit, which is quite damaging for eye health. You need to realise that most of the times your hands are covered with a host of germs responsible for different types of diseases and infections. So, it’s better if you get rid of this unhealthy habit, but if you can’t, make sure to keep your hands as clean as possible. You can use anything from soaps to sanitisers, just keep them clean if you can’t stop rubbing them over your eyes.
12: Stick to Quality Products If Eye Makeup is Your Thing
The truth is that rubbing disease-laden hands over your eyes is not the only way to harm them, eye makeup can serve the purpose as well, especially if you are not quality conscious. Harmful bacteria can thrive in a lot of unlikely places, including the mascara you wear and the tips of liner pencils you use to beautify your eyes with. Don’t stick with the same mascara tube for more than 3 months and don’t forget to sharpen the tips of your favourite liner pencils. Always prefer quality brands when buying eye makeup to sustain and enjoy healthy eyes as long as possible.
13: Be Careful About Your Contacts
It is your contact lenses that you need to be extra careful about. If you believe you are already taking good care of your contacts, think again, because a study conducted by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas revealed that about 85% users of contact lenses wrongly believe that they are careful enough with their contacts. Only 2% of them actually fulfilled the requisites. So, follow the prescription guidelines thoroughly when handling your contacts instead of (supposedly) cleaning them with everything from saliva to tap water or baby oil if you want to keep your eyes as healthy and disease free as possible.
14. Eye Health is More NB than Your Medical aid coverage
There’s no denying how hard it is to manage your finances, but it seems nothing compared to managing with vision impairment or vision loss. Contrary to popular belief, you can get your eyes screened even with regular health insurance if you have a family history of an increased risk factor for diseases like glaucoma. Moreover, there are not-for-profit organisations as well, which provide eye exams and other sorts of eye care facilities to those who qualify. Trying them is still better than repenting over why you didn’t do that in time.
15: Avoid Dry Air
Cozying up your home through winter might also be an unlikely culprit if dry eyes have been bugging you of late. A humidifier can be of great assistance in such scenarios, adding some much needed moisture to help your eyes stay hydrated.
16: Stay Hydrated
Talking of dry eyes, dehydration can also lead to it. Human body relies heavily on water to function smoothly. If you are not conscious about fluid level in your body, tear production in your eyes is also affected amongst a myriad of other complications, which results in dry eyes. Simply, stay hydrated to keep your eyes out of trouble.
17: Sleep Well
Your eyes can also get into trouble if you are in a habit of skipping sleep regularly. Adequate sleep ensures that your eyes are well rested and strain free.
18: Sharing Your Towel is Not a Good Idea
Being generous is one thing and sharing your towel is a totally different one. It’s more like choosing between the two, because sharing face towels and washers means getting your eyes vulnerable to contagious eye infections like conjunctivitis (or pinkeye).
19: Avoid Excessive Coffee Consumption
If the thought of a steamy cup in front of you every afternoon is too strong to resist, try replacing coffee with green tea. In addition to fulfilling your body’s fluid requirements, green tea is known to be a great source of catechins, which along with other antioxidants (like vitamin C, vitamin E, zeaxanthin and lutein) help eyes fight against various eye problems including cataracts and AMD.
20: The Sooner the Better
Timing is of undeniable significance when it comes to treating most serious eye conditions like AMD and glaucoma. The sooner they get diagnosed, the higher is the probability of treating them successfully. So, start consulting your eye doctor regularly before it’s too late.
Besides the financial implications make sure that if you suspect that you may have an eye condition, consult your eye doctor as soon as possible. As one of your most important senses, your eye sight is invaluable.