April Fools’ Day – 6 silly eye care myths you should know about

Photo Courtesy of jenschapter3 on Flickr

Photo Courtesy of jenschapter3 on Flickr

It is April Fools’ Day and to help ensure you don’t look foolish, I wanted to share a little eye information with you. There are a number of myths out there about your eyes and I wanted to quickly clear up some of the confusion. I hear a few of these myths every week with my patients, so here are a few of the most common:

  1. “Eye exercises can strengthen your eyes so you won’t need glasses.” While it is true you can make your eyes function better by doing eye exercises, for the majority of patients, glasses or contacts are needed to keep their vision consistently clear. The exception to this rule is that some children can benefit from eye exercises under the direction of an optometrist trained in vision therapy, which can help reduce a child’s need for glasses.
  2. “High pressure in your eyes means you have glaucoma.” Glaucoma is a very serious eye disease that can result in permanent vision loss. We know that having pressure beyond  a certain range significantly increases your risk of developing glaucoma, it does not mean you actually have glaucoma.
  3. “Contacts can slip behind the back of your eye and get struck in your brain.” Our body’s natural defense system ensures that this cannot happen. The conjunctiva is a tissue that covers the inner portions of your eyelids and the white of your eye. It is a continuous tissue that prevents anything from getting behind your eye, that includes contacts, eyelashes, or any other things that may get into your eye.
  4. “Wearing glasses makes your eyes weaker.” This common myth does not take into account that as your eyes age, your ability to see clearly without correction is reduced. Small prescriptions that did not require correction as child or young adult can present later in life as blur or visual discomfort requiring glasses.
  5. “If you can see clearly, you have healthy eyes.” Sadly, this is a common myth that keeps many people from getting their eyes checked on a regular basis. Comprehensive annual eye examinations with your doctor of optometry can help ensure that you have healthy eyes and detect serious vision-threatening or even life-threatening diseases well before they become a problem. Tumors, uncontrolled diabetes, strokes and other serious health problems can be caught during an eye exam with your optometrist. Regular exams with a doctor of optometry can help ensure clear vision and healthy eyes.
  6. “Eyes can actually pop out of your head.” This myth gets perpetuated by the many horror movies that show eyes being knocked out of a person’s head and rolling along the ground. Fortunately for us all, this does not happen. Your eyes are held in place by muscles that move your eye up, down, left and right. Additionally, you have a nerve that plugs into the back of your eye that can also hold it in place. Systemic health disease, such as thyroid eye disease, or compressive trauma can cause your eyes to protrude beyond your eyelids but they will never fall out of head like they do in the movies.

I hope shedding some light on the eye myths helped increase your knowledge and keep you from looking foolish.

 ~Ranjeet S. Bajwa, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association
http://eyehelp.org
http://www.coavision.org

Vision and the aging eye

Courtesy of ORBIS US on Flickr

Courtesy of ORBIS US on Flickr

Many patients reach a certain life stage and realize they need to start thinking more about their vision and preventing eye problems.  This usually happens in their early to mid-forties when people notice reading is a lot easier when there’s plenty of light and the print is held further away.  Those who have seen an eye care provider for this problem should have already discovered that this is a normal aging process.  But how does one know when vision changes are normal or should be concerning?

Eye conditions that impact vision:

  • Presbyopia is the medical term for when the focusing muscles in the eye are not as flexible, causing poor focusing ability for objects nearby.  This typically occurs in the late thirties/early forties and is easily corrected with reading glasses or bifocal or progressive lenses.
  • Cataracts begin to develop in our forties and progress over time.  There is a natural clear crystalline lens in our eye which focuses light onto our retina.  With ultraviolet ray exposure, this lens can become more opaque and yellow over time, causing a dimming of vision and glare and haloes around lights.  The best way to prevent cataracts from progressing quickly is to protect the eyes with UV-blocking sunglasses anytime you are outdoors.  The good news about cataracts is that they can be easily removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant.  With the latest technology of intraocular lens implants such as muiltifocal lenses, patients are now able to see clearly at all distances without the use of glasses or reading glasses.
  • Glaucoma is a symptomless eye disease of the optic nerve head where the nerve slowly deteriorates over time.  Most patients who develop glaucoma will not have any symptoms until the late stages of the disease, when peripheral vision deteriorates and patients are left with tunnel vision.  There is no cure or preventative measure for glaucoma, however, it is easily treated with eyedrops.  The only way to determine if you have glaucoma is to have annual comprehensive eye examinations.

    Courtesy of Nargopolis on Flickr

    Courtesy of Nargopolis on Flickr

  • Macular Degeneration is another common eye disease that can cause debilitating vision loss.  This occurs when the macular region of the retina loses its integrity causing poor central vision with distortion or gray spots.  It is often detected upon routine examination, especially when photos of the retina are compared over time.  Fortunately, there have been extensive studies on macular degeneration and the field has changed dramatically over the last several years.  An important test in recent years is genetic testing to determine one’s risk factor for vision loss as a result of macular degeneration, as well as antioxidants that may be useful in reducing this risk.  Clear risk factors include a history of smoking, exposure to ultraviolet radiation, increased cholesterol levels and Caucasian women with lighter eyes and fairer complexions.
  • Retinal Detachment tends to occur more often in those who are older than 65.  The retina is a thin and fragile tissue that lines the back wall of the eye and sends visual information to the brain.  This tissue becomes more fragile over time and can easily develop a hole or tear leading to a retinal detachment.  If you experience flashes of light, new floaters, or a change in your vision, you need to be seen right away by your eyecare provider.

There are a myriad of eye conditions that can develop as one ages.  The most important and useful method of preventing vision loss is to stay healthy.  See your primary care physician regularly to evaluate and treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other health conditions.  If you have uncontrolled health conditions, you can easily lose your vision to diabetic retinopathy, hypertensive retinopathy, or a stroke in the eye.

So, as I tell all my patients, see your physician regularly, eat green leafy vegetables, take your medications, and monitor your own blood pressure or blood sugar.  And of course, wear sunglasses outdoors and see your optometrist annually.

~Cindy P. Wang, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association
http://www.coavision.org