I’m afraid this is one of those do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do blog posts. I must confess that when my eyes are itching from pollen exposure I can rarely resist rubbing them. So I absolutely empathize with those of you who also fall victim to the sweet lure of eye-rubbing when allergies flare. But as a responsible physician, I must tell you that rubbing those itchy eyes is like pouring water on a grease fire. It only makes things worse.
Allergens (including foreign substances including pollen) like to stick to moisture-rich surfaces such as eye lids, eye balls, noses, and throats. Our bodies’ immune cells recognize these allergens and launch an attack to break down their proteins and remove them from the tissues. Specialized allergen removers, called mast cells, flock to areas that are heavy laden with pollen (or mold, pet dander, dust mite feces, etc.) Once they are near the allergens they break apart, spilling their acidic chemicals and histamines onto the invaders to break them down to remove them. These chemicals can cause stinging and itching sensations in the eyelid edges and other sensitive areas.
When we rub our eyes, we actually rupture mast cells at a faster pace due to mechanical traction. The result is that massive loads of acid and histamine are released into the already-sensitive tissues and the itching and burning often increases exponentially. So we rub harder!
As you can see, this is a vicious cycle that is best avoided. When your eyes become red, watery, and itchy from allergens the smartest course of action is to wash the area that has been exposed, flush the eyes with artificial tears, and try anti-histamine drops for itch relief. If you’re a contact lens wearer like me, try daily disposable lenses. A fresh pair every morning prevents possible allergens (that can cling to contacts from the day before) from being re-introduced into your eyes.
Let’s hope that pollen counts are more manageable next year, and until then we should all try our very best to remember the alternatives to eye-rubbing. I’m putting a bottle of artificial tears in my purse right now!
For more eye-allergy tips, please check out my recent interview with ABC News:
For further information about general eye health, please check out my Healthy Vision podcasts at Blog Talk Radio.
Disclosure: Dr. Val Jones is a paid consultant for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.
Most people assume that their eyes are healthy if their vision is stable, but this is not always the case. Eye doctors look for many different potential diseases and conditions during a comprehensive eye exam, and if you (or your children or loved ones) haven’t had one recently then maybe it’s time to make it a New Year’s resolution for 2012?
One CDC survey suggests that as many as 34.6% of adults over the age of 40 (with moderate to severe visual impairment) believe that they don’t need regular eye exams. This popular misconception may lead to missed diagnoses. Eye doctors look for signs of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, cataracts, macular degeneration, retinal tears, allergies and infections (among other things) each time they conduct a comprehensive eye exam. The exam offers a lot more than a simple vision check. And this is particularly important for children.
In a recent interview with the president of the American Optometric Association (AOA), Dr. Dori Carlson, I learned the surprising statistic that about 1 in 4 school age children have an undetected or undiagnosed vision problem. School vision screenings, while helpful, still miss more than 75% of these problems. And for those kids who are discovered to have a vision problem during a school screening, upwards of 40% receive no follow up after the diagnosis.
The eyes are more than a “window to the soul” but a window to general physical health. And the good news is that exams are relatively inexpensive and painless – so why not resolve to make them part of your yearly health maintenance routine, starting in 2012? Let’s make 2012 a year for healthy vision!
Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to what it actually means to have 20/20 vision. Like most people, I assumed that 20/20 vision was just a synonym for “perfect” eyesight. But when I recently spoke with optometrist Graham Erickson, a sports vision specialist, I realized that there is an entire medical field devoted to optimizing vision for athletes – so that they can see better than 20/20, perhaps even 20/8! In fact, 20/20 vision just means that you can see an object 20 feet away as well as the “average” person.
In my interview with Dr. Erickson, I learned that some professional baseball players have vision that is two times better than average, allowing them to judge pitches further away by seeing how the baseball’s stitches and seams turn in mid-air. This kind of vision is not necessarily something that you’re born with – it can come with training and good vision-correcting lenses. There are exercises that professional do to improve their contrast sensitivity, peripheral visual acuity, and reaction times. And we regular folks (weekend warriors, kids, and aspiring athletes) can also “pump up our peepers” with exercises that we can do at home. Please listen in to the full Healthy Vision segment to find out how to do these exercises:
I also learned that different athletes (such as basketball players, archers, and offensive linemen) have unique visual demands, and they train for those demands quite differently. While a basketball player may focus on improving his “court vision” (dividing his attention between guarding “his man” and being aware of what’s going on in the periphery), an archer may rely almost exclusively on her central vision,
while an offensive lineman may need to split his attention between central near vision (controlling his man) and peripheral vision to pick up shifts by the defense. Since it’s estimated that 80% of the information we take in (while playing sports) comes from our eyes, even slightly blurry vision can dramatically affect performance.
Even though there is a lot that athletes can do to improve their visual skills, very few competitive athletes get annual comprehensive eye exams. In my latest Healthy Vision episode, NBA star Tyreke Evans* offered a call-to-action to his peers regarding regular check ups, and World-Champion female sprinter Allyson Felix spoke to me about the role that good vision has had in her success.
Sacramento Kings' Tyreke Evans
In summary, I learned from Dr. Erickson and Allyson Felix, that eye fitness is a critical part of competitive sports, but unfortunately something we often don’t think about. There are new training programs that help to develop peripheral vision skills that may reduce the risk of being blind sided in football or hockey games, and can therefore reduce concussion risk. Athletes should seek out an eye care professional who specializes in sports vision in order to optimize their visual potential. The American Optometric Association’s Sports Vision Section offers a doctor locator to help patients find sports vision experts in their area. Please check out the website here (or their Facebook page) for more information.
You probably see your primary care physician once a year, and your dentist twice a year. But how often do you see your eye doctor? Vision is the most valued of the 5 senses, and yet Americans don’t seem to be making regular eye exams a priority. A recent CDC survey suggests that as many as 34.6% of adults over the age of 40 (with moderate to severe visual impairment) believe that they don’t need regular eye exams. About 39.8% of the respondents said that they didn’t get regular exams because they were too costly, or because their health insurance didn’t cover the expense.
Although cost may play a role in peoples’ thinking, a comprehensive eye exam costs as little as $45-50 at retail outlets. I suspect that the real reason why people don’t get regular eye exams is because they incorrectly believe that if their vision is stable, their eyes are healthy.
A comprehensive eye exam is a type of medical check up – it is not just a vision assessment. Eye care professionals can diagnose everything from glaucoma and cataracts to high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even neurologic conditions such as brain tumors and multiple sclerosis. The eyes are more than a “window to the soul” but a window to general physical health. And the good news is that exams are relatively inexpensive and painless – so please consider making them part of your yearly health maintenance routine.
And to my primary care friends – don’t forget to encourage your patients to get annual eye exams. As the CDC notes:
Recommendations from primary-care providers can influence patients to receive eye-care services; persons who had visual screening during routine physical examinations had better eye health because of reminders to visit eye specialists. Public health interventions aimed at heightening awareness among both adults aged ≥65 years and health-care providers might increase utilization rates among persons with age-related eye diseases or chronic diseases that affect vision such as diabetes.
I myself have had an unexpected diagnosis during an eye exam, and feel passionate about the importance of preventive screening. In fact, I’ll be the upcoming host of a new eye health education initiative – a radio show called, “Healthy Vision with Dr. Val Jones” supported by ACUVUE brand contact lenses. The first show will be released here today, and it’s also available at Blog Talk Radio.
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