Category Archives: eye health

An optometrist’s guide to beating spring allergy season

Spring time is prime time for allergies. And, although most of us know about symptoms such as runny nose and sneezing, allergies can have a major impact on your eyes, too. Optometrist Jane Le from Sydney’s rt healthy eyes explains how allergies affect your eyes, why they occur and what you can do to ease your eyes as we enter allergy season.

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Jane explains that eye allergies are common and usually mild; they can occur on their own or in conjunction with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or sinusitis (inflammation of the nasal mucus membrane). But, for people who have chronic eczema or asthma, eye allergies can be serious and can trigger inflammation of the conjunctiva (the delicate membrane that covers the eye and the inside of the eyelid).

If you’re affected, your eyes may feel itchy and sore but some people don’t get itching – instead, they feel a burning sensation and/or tired eyes.

What causes allergies?

Like all allergies, symptoms occur when your body overreacts to a substance i.e. an allergen. The immune system makes antibodies to fight what it sees as an invader (the allergen) and this causes your body to release histamine.

Your eyes are especially sensitive to allergens because like your skin, they are exposed and vulnerable to the outside world. When allergens come into contact with your eyes, they cause cells called mast cells to break down with the release of histamine. Histamine causes itching and dilation of the blood vessels and excessive watering of the eyes, too. You might get swelling of the eyelids or conjunctiva, sensitivity to light, blurry vision and/or a burning sensation. Plus, histamine causes blood vessels to widen and this allows for inflammatory allergic molecules to flow more easily into the eye’s bloodstream. The result? Redness of the eyes, swelling and more.

Seasonal and perennial

The most common types of eye allergies are seasonal and perennial (happen all year round).

Seasonal allergies are caused by exposure to pollens, tiny potentially irritating materials released from grass, trees, mould and weeds. Pollens are at their highest concentration in spring and summer, resulting in hay fever for susceptible people.

Perennial allergies that affect the eyes throughout the year are caused by a range of ever-present allergens, from mould, pet substances (dead skin cells, hair, feathers in bedding) and dust mites. Pollution, tobacco smoke, chlorine and certain medicines can also trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible people. The symptoms of eye allergies can also be triggered by direct contact with cosmetics, perfumes, preservatives, contact lenses and insect stings.

Sometimes, it’s easy to detect what’s causing your allergic eye problems. But it’s not always simple. So, your GP may suggest a few tests to pinpoint exactly what’s setting you off.

Six self-help ways to protect your eyes from allergies and reduce symptoms

1. Reduce exposure to the allergen or allergens that are triggering your symptoms. If it’s pollen, wear sunglasses to block pollen particles from getting to your eyes when you’re out and about.

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2. Try to keep the windows closed and use the air conditioning when you’re in the car.

3. Wash after being outside to remove pollen from your body and hair.

4. Think about replacing carpets with hard flooring and cleaning them with a slightly damp cloth instead of sweeping (which tends to stir up allergens). And, if you can, choose blinds instead of curtains for the same reason.

5. Cold compresses and lubricating eye drops can help ease the symptoms, especially if your eyes are itchy. Or, try a sterile saline solution to help flush away allergens from your eyes.

6. Keeping your eye drops in the fridge may provide some cooling relief.

Medical treatment for mild allergies involves the use of anti-histamine eye drops. Oral anti-histamine medications can be helpful to reduce the symptoms of hay fever, too. And, steroid eye drops may need to be prescribed for more chronic (long-term) and serious allergies. See your optometrist or GP for the most effective treatment plan.

About the author

Jane Le is qualified in ocular therapeutics and has been an optometrist since 2006. She has worked extensively across Australia and as a volunteer optometrist in El Salvador and in Mexico. Currently, she works at rt healthy eyes in Surry Hills, Sydney.

Optometrist Jane Le
Jane Le, optometrist at rt healthy eyes

 

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Macular degeneration and diet

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration affects one in seven Australians over the age of 50[i]. It is the leading cause of blindness and vision loss in the country, being responsible for 50% of all blindness; more than glaucoma and cataracts combined.

The macula is a part of the eye, which is responsible for giving you the clearest vision. In macular degeneration, the cells in this area become irreversibly damaged and the result is a loss of vision.

There are two forms of this condition – wet macular degeneration and dry macular degeneration. There is no cure for either type of macular degeneration right now, but your optometrist can inform you about the different treatment options that can help to reduce vision loss for those with wet macular degeneration. In Australia, smoking is a major cause of blindness from macular degeneration[ii].

Why diet and vitamins are important for your eye health

Eating too many saturated fats has been shown to increase the advancement of macular degeneration[iii]. Saturated fat is found in foods such as beef, pork, lamb, butter, cream and high-fat cheeses as well as fast/takeaway/processed foods.

On the other hand, people who enjoy a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish have a lower incidence of macular degeneration[iv].

Carrots and celery

Protective plant pigments

Vegetables and fruits help to protect against macular degeneration. They contain antioxidant vitamins (such as vitamin C) and also antioxidant-rich pigments, one of which is lutein. Lutein is found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, mustard greens and collard greens (the darker the leaf, the more concentrated the pigments). Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits are especially rich in pigments – these include red grapes, oranges, rockmelons and mangoes. Orange produce contains the pigment beta-carotene, which helps to protect your eyes. Try and opt for five servings of veggies and two fruits daily. A serving is equivalent to ½ cup of most foods and one cup for leafy greens.

Make more of fish

Fish is also good for your eye health – eating fish has been shown to lower the risk for macular degeneration[v]. The recommended intake of fish is two to three times a week and the best types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines.  If you don’t eat fish, think about taking a daily omega-3 supplement. Speak to your local pharmacist about the best option for you.

Salmon

What about supplements?

A specific supplement for eyes may help to protect your eye health; it may also help to reduce vision loss in people who have moderate macular degeneration. Supplements have not been shown to be beneficial in patients who do not have macular degeneration, or have only mild macular degeneration. Talk to your optometrist to find out more.

About the author

Jane Le is qualified in ocular therapeutics and has been an optometrist since 2006. She has worked extensively across Australia and as a volunteer optometrist in El Salvador and in Mexico.

Optometrist Jane Le
Jane Le, optometrist at rt healthy eyes

 

 

[i] Macular Disease Foundation Australia. Deloitte Access Economic Report. http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/mdfreport.aspx

[ii] Australian Government. Smoking Causes Blindness. http://www.quitnow.gov.au/internet/quitnow/publishing.nsf/content/warnings-b-eye

[iii] PubMed – NCBI. Progression of age-related macular degeneration: association with dietary fat, transunsaturated fat, nuts and fish intake. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14662593

[iv] AMD.org. Diet And Vitamins for AMD. http://www.amd.org/can-diet-and-vitamins-help-macular-degeneration/

[v] University of Maryland Medical Center. Omega-3 fatty acids. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids

Protect your hardworking eyes

They work when you work, they work when you’re relaxing and they even work when you’re sleeping. So, are you giving your hardworking eyes the care they deserve?

At work …

Most eye injuries (60 per cent) occur during work[i]. According to the Australian government, the construction, mining, agriculture, forestry and fishing industries are where most eye accidents at work occur[ii]. Any job that involves airborne particles or hazardous substances carries a risk of eye injury. Protect your eyes by:

  • Wearing the right eyewear – your workplace health and safety policy advisors will direct you on the right kind of eyewear you need. Generally speaking, safety eyewear made with polycarbonate lenses and a safety frame with side shields or close fitting wraparound styles give the best protection.
  • Seeking shade – it’s not just your skin that the sun can damage, ultraviolet (UV) rays can also harm your eyes[iii]. Over time, too much sun can contribute to cataracts (where protein builds up in the lens making it cloudy and preventing light from passing clearly through it). So, if you work outside or spend part of the day outdoors, always wear a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Driving safely – did you know that the sun can penetrate glass and damage your skin and eyes? If you do a lot of driving, think about applying a clear, protective UV blocking film to the side windows as well as wearing sunglasses. And, if you’re suddenly more sensitive to light, see your GP.

safety at work

Protecting screen eyes

Do you find that you’re having trouble reading fine print whether you’re working in front of a screen or relaxing behind one? Called presbyopia (pronounced press-by-o-pee-a), this condition tends to affect people aged 40 and above. It happens as the lens loses its flexibility. And, in order to focus when you’re reading, the lens needs to be flexible enough to adapt and change shape.

If you work with computer screens for much of the day, you may experience eye strain – a bit like repetitive strain injury for your eyes. If this is you, your optometrist may prescribe computer glasses, which have lenses that are specially designed to maximise your vision at the kind of close-up distances that you need to be able to focus on when doing computer work. You can also make changes to your computer screen such as placing the screen about an arm’s length away from your eyes and a little below eye level. Also, make sure to take regular breaks from computer work. A good rule of thumb is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes look away from your computer about 20 feet (around 6.1m) in front of you for 20 seconds.

Feeding your eyes

What you eat can benefit your eyes. So, try to snack on nuts and seeds, which contain key antioxidants such as vitamin E and zinc to protect your eyes. Go for a mixed handful of almonds, Brazil nuts and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Flax and chia seeds are also a good option, as they contain omega-3 fats, which lubricate cells and help to reduce inflammation.

Go for green, yellow, orange and blue … Veggies are low in kilojoules and packed with nutrition, so opt for a cup or more daily. Brightly coloured veggies and fruits (such as carrots, eggplant, mangoes and blueberries) are also rich in eye protecting antioxidants.

vegetables

Avoid dry eyes. Your tears naturally lubricate your eyes but health conditions, medications, dry air, allergies and getting older can all cause dry, irritated eyes. Essential omega-3 fats help to nourish you from the inside out so try to enjoy oily fish like salmon, sardines and fresh tuna two or three times per week. Or, think about taking a fish oil supplement. These fats are called essential because your body can’t make them for itself – you have to get them from your diet. If dry eyes persist, ask your optometrist about a suitable product that might help or see your GP.

Due for a check-up?

You need regular eye exams all through your life, especially if eye problems run in your family or if you have other risk factors.  An eye exam can also show other conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Book an eye test with our qualified optometrists at rt healthy eyes. We’re open to – and we welcome – everyone!

Call rt healthy eyes Surry Hills (NSW) on 1300 991 044

Call rt healthy eyes Charlestown (NSW) on 1300 782 571

This health message is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund, Australia’s only dedicated, not-for-profit health fund for people who work in the transport and energy industries.

[i] National Center for Biotechnology Information. Epidemiology of ocular trauma in Australia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10485561

[ii] Australian Safety and Compensation Council. Work-related eye injuries in Australia. http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/Documents/201/WorkRelatedEyeInjuriesAustralia_2008_PDF.pdf

[iii] The Skin Cancer Foundation. How Sunlight Damages the Eyes. http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/for-your-eyes/how-sunlight-damages-the-eyes

14 signs that could mean your child has a vision problem

A massive one in five children has a vision problem that hasn’t been detected yet[i]. Good vision is vital for learning – a massive 80 per cent is done via sight[ii]! Yet, kids of all ages have trouble recognising when they have a problem with their vision. With nothing to compare their sight with, they’ll probably accept that what they’re seeing is normal and that they’re seeing the world in the same way as everyone else. Your child probably won’t be able to talk to you about what they’re experiencing if vision deterioration is slow, too. The result? Frustration, irritation and a loss of concentration or decreased performance at school.

The common signs and symptoms of vision problems in kids

Vision problems mean that kids can face challenges at school, which are often misdiagnosed as ADHD, dyslexia or other learning difficulties[iii]. So it’s important to know the signs. Watch out for:

  1. Headaches
  2. Eye strain
  3. Blurred or double vision
  4. Cross eyes or eyes that appear to move independently of each other
  5. A dislike of reading and up close work
  6. Short attention span during visual tasks
  7. Turning or tilting of the head, or closing or covering one eye to read
  8. Placing the head very close to a book or desk when reading or writing
  9. Constant blinking or eye rubbing
  10. Using a finger as a guide while reading and/or often losing where they are up to
  11. Slow rate of reading or poor understanding of reading
  12. Difficulty remembering what has been read
  13. Leaving out words, repeating words or confusing similar words while reading
  14. Poor eye-hand coordination.

If your child shows one or more of these symptoms, it could be due to a vision problem.

girl blowing bubbles

What to do

Many kids have never had a comprehensive eye examination, which is one reason why vision problems go unrecognised for so many children. Your optometrist is trained to pick up and treat problems effectively. Book your child in for an eye exam at least once every two years – more often if your optometrist recommends it.

And, if your optometrist doesn’t detect a vision problem, your child’s symptoms may be caused by another condition such as dyslexia or another learning disability. Knowing about this early is important and your GP can refer you to an educational specialist to help find the root of the problem. Either way, your child gets the treatment they need.

[i] Optometry Australia. Your Eyes. http://www.optometry.org.au/your-eyes/your-child’s-eyes/

[ii] Midwestern University. Uncorrected Vision Issues Misdiagnosed as Learning Disabilities in Children. https://www.midwestern.edu/news-and-events/university-news/uncorrected-vision-issues-misdiagnosed-as-learning-disabilities-in-children.html

[iii] Midwestern University. Uncorrected Vision Issues Misdiagnosed as Learning Disabilities in Children. https://www.midwestern.edu/news-and-events/university-news/uncorrected-vision-issues-misdiagnosed-as-learning-disabilities-in-children.html

 

Have your eyes tested – it could save your sight!

When was the last time you had your eyes checked? If you have to think hard about when your last eye appointment was, chances are that it’s been too long.

This week is Macular Degeneration Awareness Week and it’s a timely reminder to organise a simple eye check – it could go a long way to helping preserve your sight!

Here are eight questions and answers about how protecting your macula (the tiny area in your eyes) could protect your vision.

  1. What is Macular Degeneration (MD)?

MD is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in people over 40 in Australia[i]. A group of degenerative Stock-image-elderly-couple_xxl-15diseases, MD causes progressive, painless loss of central vision. Although there is no cure for MD, a number of treatments can slow its progression. The earlier MD is detected, the better the outcome as far as your vision is concerned.

  1. So what exactly is the macula?

The macula is the central light sensitive tissues of the retina. Located at the back of the eye, it contains the highest density of light detecting cells and the area is responsible for central vision (rather than peripheral vision).

  1. What does it do?

The macula processes vision in the centre of your eyes enabling you to recognise people, see colours and allows you to carry out the kind of fine image sight you need to carry out processes like driving.

  1. Who’s affected by MD?

About one million Australians are affected by MD[ii], that’s around one in seven Aussies over age 50[iii]. Macular Disease Foundation Australia Chief Executive, Julie Heraghty, says that regular testing is vital stressing that without appropriate prevention and treatment, the number of people affected will rise to 1.7 million by 2030 as our population gets older[iv]. Surprisingly, although 85 per cent of Australians over 50 know that macular degeneration affects the eyes, one in four hadn’t had their eyes/macula checked within the last two years, reports Ms Heraghty.

  1. Should I see my optometrist?

All Australians over 50 should see their optometrist for a full eye check as should people who smoke and those with a family history of the disease. Your optometrist will complete a thorough eye check and may advise more frequent visits.

  1. What are the symptoms?

You can’t easily self-diagnose eye problems related to early MD. But, it’s extra important to see your optometrist if you have any of these four Ds:

  • Difficulty reading or with other activities that require fine vision
  • Distortion – where straight lines look wavy or bent
  • Distinguishing faces is becoming a problem
  • Dark patches or empty spaces appear in the centre of your vision.
  1. Stock-image-breaking-cigaretteWhat about lifestyle habits? Smokers are particularly susceptible to MD. That’s because chemicals in tobacco affect the metabolism of the retina triggering faster or premature ageing of the eye. If you smoke, you risk gradually losing your central vision, which could eventually lead to blindness. Your GP can provide you with effective techniques to quit smoking.
  1. What about diet?

As well as regular eye checks, a healthy diet and lifestyle can help to reduce the chance of developing MD …

  • Go green

Most days, try to eat some form of leafy greens – such as spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and Chinese greens. They contain two key eye-protecting antioxidants called lutein (loo-teen) and zeaxanthin (zee-a-zan-thin), which are concentrated in your macula. Go for around a cup of leafy veggies daily. Try stir-frying with a little extra virgin olive oil to help your body to absorb these nutrients more effectively.

  • Nibble nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds contain vitamin E and zinc, key antioxidant protectors of your eyes. Go for a mixed handful of almonds, Brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds. Flax and chia seeds are good options as they contain omega-3 fats, which lubricate cells and decrease inflammation.

  • Make fish your dish

Around twice a week, try to opt for fish. Oily fish like salmon, fresh tuna and sardines contain essential omega-3 fats. They’re called essential as your body can’t make them for itself and you have to get them from your diet.

  • Fresh fruits and veggies

The bright colours of fruit signify that they are loaded with antioxidant pigments as well as vitamin C, both of which help to iStock_000025526734_Double-(1)protect all your body cells from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can lead to long-term problems like inflammation, which in turn damages body cells.

  • Go low GI

Processed white foods like white bread, pasta, flour and rice can raise your blood glucose before causing it to dip. Eating too many white carbohydrate foods is associated with an increased risk of macular degeneration. So go wholegrain when you can.

On top of all these, protect your eyes from the sun’s rays, come in and get your eyes tested regularly and help protect your vision.

For more information about macular degeneration call the Macular Disease Foundation Australia on 1800 111 709 or visit www.mdfoundation.com.au.

Due for a check-up? Book an eye test with our qualified optometrists at rt healthy eyes today. We’re open to – and we welcome – everyone!

Call rt healthy eyes Surry Hills: 1300 991 044

Call rt healthy eyes Charlestown: 1300 782 571

Ravinder Lilly-edited
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

[i] http://www.visionaustralia.org/eye-health/eye-conditions/age-related-macular-degeneration

[ii] http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/mdfreport.aspx

[iii] http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/resources/12/MDFA_Annual_Report_web_2012_13.pdf

[iv] http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/page12204136.aspx

Are your eyes vulnerable to the silent sight stealer?

Do you know about the silent sight stealer that is glaucoma? During World Glaucoma Week (8-14 March, 2015), events will be held all over the world to increase the awareness of the serious – but treatable condition.

So what is glaucoma?

Usually a chronic condition, glaucoma refers to a group of eye conditions in which there is abnormally high pressure (in most cases of these conditions) in the eye from build up of fluid in the eyeball. Over time, this results in damage to the optic nerve causing permanent vision loss.

The normal eye requires the production, circulation and drainage of fluid in the eyeball. In most cases of glaucoma, the pressure increase inside the eyes is due to a blockage in the circulation of this fluid or insufficient drainage of this fluid out of the eyeball.

The build-up of pressure in the eye can gradually damage the optic nerve (which connects the eye to the brain) resulting in gradual, permanent loss of vision. Glaucoma often affects both eyes, usually to varying degrees. One eye may develop glaucoma faster than the other.

Are you at risk?

Couple in convertibleGlaucoma can affect people of any age, but it’s most common after the age of 40.

You have a higher risk of being affected by glaucoma if you have a family history of it. Certain ethnic groups – including people of Asian descent[i] – are more at risk of glaucoma. Currently, a massive 50 per cent of people with glaucoma in Australia are undiagnosed[ii].

Those with conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or those who regularly use medications such as corticosteroids are also at greater risk of glaucoma.

It is a ‘silent sight stealer’ in that in many cases of glaucoma which go undiagnosed and untreated, the loss of vision is very gradual, beginning in the peripheral vision and extending very slowly towards the central parts of vision – in the absence of any other symptoms.

An eye examination is needed for an accurate diagnosis to be made to prevent or limit damage to the optic nerve. Early diagnosis is important because damage to the eyes cannot be reversed. You can’t prevent glaucoma, but you can slow down its development with early treatment. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause visual impairment and progress to tunnel vision and ultimately result in total blindness.

Driving and glaucoma

If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, you may have a number of vision problems. Having glaucoma may make it more difficult for you to see and react in time to avoid obstacles, you may have blurred vision and your eyes may take longer to adjust in bright sunlight or from headlight glare at night, too.

Those with glaucoma or those taking medications to manage glaucoma may experience uncomfortable glare from car headlights and fluorescent lights. During bright days, try wearing glasses with tinted brown lenses and a lighter tint of amber may work better for you when it is overcast[iii]. You’ll need to experiment to find out what suits you best, but yellow, amber and brown shades may provide the best glare protection. Ask your optometrist about flip down lenses to go over your regular glasses for quick protection.

Get your eyes checked
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If you are 40 or older, make an appointment to see your optometrist for a comprehensive eye examination every one and a half to two years. If you are 40 or older and have an additional risk factor listed above, get tested every year. If you’re at an especially high risk, get yourself tested every year or two after 35[iv].

Your optometrist is qualified to examine your eyes for eye and vision disorders and to treat the problems. During an eye test, your optometrist will screen for common eye diseases including glaucoma.

Some cases of glaucoma can be controlled through medicines and eye drops, but around one in ten people may need surgery.

Attending regular appointments with your optometrist will help to ensure any signs of glaucoma can be detected early and allow treatment to begin.

Jui Tham is Chief Medical Officer at rt health fund
Jui Tham is Chief Medical Officer at rt health fund.

[i] Glaucoma Research Foundation. Glaucoma In Asian Populations. http://www.glaucoma.org/gleams/glaucoma-in-asian-populations.php

[ii] Glaucoma Australia. Glaucoma Facts. http://www.glaucoma.org.au/what.htm

[iii] Glaucoma Research Foundation. Glaucoma and Driving. http://www.glaucoma.org/treatment/glaucoma-and-driving.php

[iv] The Glaucoma Foundation. Who’s at risk? https://www.glaucomafoundation.org/Risk.htm