How many of us get our eyes tested regularly? I’d bet not enough, but did you know that 75% of vision loss is preventable or treatable if found early? Sudden changes in vision or eye complaints with a headache, dizziness or loss of balance are warning signs to see your doctor. Today we are going to take a look at the two leading causes of vision loss and how they can be managed best.
The eye works like an old-style camera. Light comes in through the cornea and pupil, the lens focusses it onto the retina at the back of the eye. The image is taken to the brain by the optic nerve for us to “see”. The shape of the eye ball is maintained by the fluid inside it. If the pressure of the fluid pushing on the eye ball increases to high levels, the optic nerve can be damaged and vision can be lost. This is called Glaucoma.
Glaucoma often affects the peripheral (or side) vision first but this can go unnoticed. As more nerve fibres are damaged, more vision is lost until treatment can begin to stop or slow down the progression. As the damage is irreversible, regular checks are important for early detection. Family history of glaucoma, diabetes, previous eye injuries, sleep apnoea, steroid use and being male are all risk factors for the condition.
Certain foods and supplements may help to prevent Glaucoma developing. Lecithin and Evening Primrose oil are great additions to your diet. Antioxidants vitamin A and E can be great for eyesight in general while lutein and zeaxanthin are more specifically used to prevent glaucoma. Kumara, carrots, avocados, olives, kale, Swiss chard and other dark green leafy vegetables (respectively) are great sources of these. Flavonoids are used quite widely in eye health supplements. Rutin works with vitamin C and may aid in reducing intraocular pressure. Buckwheat is a great source of rutin and it’s also low GI, meaning it helps balance insulin levels. Bilberry contains flavonoids that help protect the eyes from further damage, as can blueberries and red raspberry leaf.
Eye drops are used to reduce the pressure inside the eye and prevent further vision loss, so it is important that the drops are instilled properly. Here is the best method:
- Wash your hands.
- Tilt your head back.
- With the index finger of one hand, gently pull down you lower eyelid to form a small pocket just inside the eyelid.
- With the other hand, hold the eye drop bottle between you thumb and index finger. Rest that hand on the hand that is gently pulling down on your lower eyelid.
- Try not to allow the tip of the bottle to come into contact with your hands or eye.
- Gently squeeze the bottle so that one drop falls into the small pocket created just inside your lower eyelid. Slowly release your lower eyelid.
- Allow your eyes to close gently for a few minutes.
- Wait 3-5 minutes before instilling the next drop if necessary.
Age-related macular degeneration is when the central part of the light-sensitive retina, the macula, deteriorates. The retina processes all visual images and is responsible for your ability to read, recognise faces, drive and see colours clearly. The deterioration results in loss of central vision but the peripheral vision is not affected.
Macular degeneration can start with the signs of difficulty reading, distortion of straight lines, dark patches or empty spaces in your vision and difficulty distinguishing faces. The Amsler grid can be used as a screening test for macular degeneration. To test, cover one eye, then focus on the dot in the centre. Look for any wavy, blurred or distorted lines or areas in the grid that are missing or dark. Then test the other eye. If you notice any irregularities, it is important that you visit your doctor as soon as possible.
Although the cause of macular degeneration is unclear, several risk factors have been identified. Aging, family history, Caucasian ethnicity and being female are risk factors you can’t do anything about. Lifestyle risk factors that can be modified include smoking, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, lack of exercise and poor nutrition. Avoid a diet high in fats, processed food and sugar. Rather, eat a diet rich in fish for omega-3 fatty acids; dark green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits and berries for helpful nutrients, especially vitamins A, C, E and zinc.
Amongst the most powerful and effective foods are those containing specific antioxidants, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. In combination they have proven benefits for macular degeneration. The best food sources for these are cooked tomatoes and carrots. The supplements, Ocuvite Preservision and Ocuvite Lutein contain combinations of vitamins and antioxidant that have been shown to reduce the chances of macular degeneration worsening in some patients. You can discuss these supplements and other treatment options with your doctor. And remember to have your eyes tested regularly and protect them from sun damage by wearing sunglasses.