Eye diseases and vision loss are becoming more common in the United States as diabetes rates rise and the population ages. Many eye conditions worsen very slowly and have no noticeable symptoms in their early stages. For this reason, getting an annual eye exam is extremely important. But is there anything we can do to prevent eye disease from a nutritional perspective? Experts believe that there is such a thing as an “eye-healthy diet.” I interviewed Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, President of the Ocular Nutrition Society, and Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, a leading nutrition researcher, to get their views on the subject. Please listen to the full HealthyVision podcast here.
Some of the my favorite learning points from the show:
1. Which foods are healthy for the eyes? The human retina contains about 1000 times more concentrated carotenoids (found primarily in plant pigments) than any other part of the body. Our eyes use these pigments to protect themselves from the photo-damage of sunlight. Carotenoids (including beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeoxanthin) are found in highest concentrations in dark green, leafy and brightly colored vegetables. Egg yolks are also a good source of carotenoids. Interestingly, our retinas have a predilection for omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish) to protect the eyes from UV radiation. My bottom line – the most eye-healthy meal on earth is probably a salmon salad Niçoise (see photo image above)!
2. Are carrots good for our eyes? While carrots can be part of healthy diet, choosing carrots as our primary source of vegetable intake may not be a good idea. Carrots contain beta-carotene, which competes with other carotenoids for transport molecules. Beta-carotene is a pretty good competitor and can “bump off” lutein and zeaxanthin from getting transported to the retina. Adults don’t process beta-carotene as well as kids do, so too many carrots may not be a great thing after all (especially as we get older)!
3. Should I take nutritional supplements for the eye? It’s always best to get your carotenoids from real food. However, some people (who take blood thinners for example) cannot eat dark green leafy vegetables because they also contain Vitamin K which can interfere with the medicines. For those who cannot get sufficient carotenoids from food, supplements may be beneficial.
4. What is the connection between obesity and chronic eye disease? While obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, and diabetes can cause chronic eye disease, there may be another problem at play. Carotenoids are fat soluble, and so they are preferentially stored in fat cells rather than remaining suspended in our blood stream. When we have larger fat stores, that fat may “mop up” the healthy vegetable carotenoids that we eat, without allowing them to be transported to the eyes to support retinal structures. Some researchers suggest that obese individuals may need to increase their carotenoid intake with supplements in order to prevent eye pigment deficiencies and potential macular degeneration. Losing body fat is also an important strategy of course.
Other questions answered in the podcast:
* How does cooking impact the nutritional value of fruits and veggies?
* Is there such a thing as over-supplementation (especially with Zinc)?
* How many veggies do I need to meet my daily carotenoid requirements?
* How do I know which vitamin supplements to trust?
I hope you enjoy the podcast – and redouble your efforts to eat a diet rich in fruits, veggies, fish and eggs and maintain a healthy weight. Remember that even though your mom may have told you that Bugs Bunny’s diet was best for your eye health, Popeye’s veggie of choice is even better for you!
Our annual “fall back” time change that gives us an extra hour of sleep is welcome news for most of us. But there are some unintended consequences of darker evenings, especially for drivers. According to the National Safety Council, traffic death rates are three times greater at night than during the day.
In a special rebroadcast of the Healthy Vision with Dr. Val Jones show, I interviewed Dr. Christina Schnider, Senior Director, Professional Communications for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, about common nighttime driving problems such as dry eyes, headaches, and eye fatigue. I also spoke with John Ulczycki, Group Vice President – Strategic Initiatives, for the National Safety Council, about safe driving tips. You can listen to the show here:
Most people experience a drop in visual acuity in the dark, and this can cause difficulty seeing traffic signs, pedestrians and roadside objects. The primary reason why it’s difficult to see at night is that our pupils dilate to let in as much light as possible. The trade off with large pupils is that visual acuity suffers. It’s normal for the average person’s visual acuity to drop from 20/20 to 20/40 in low light conditions.
Because of vision challenges, driving in low-light conditions can fatigue the eyes and head and neck muscles as the driver strains to see the environment more clearly. Dry eyes can occur from reduced blink rates and motor vehicle heating and cooling systems. Glasses wearers may have a reduced field of vision which further complicates driving in the dark. In fact, in a recent survey one -in-three drivers reported that they didn’t see well at night.
Dr. Schnider and Mr. Ulczycki suggest that night time driving may be safer (and more comfortable) with these tips:
1. Update your eyeglass or contact lens prescription(s). Since darkness reduces visual acuity, wearing lenses that correct your vision to 20/20 in normal light conditions is extra important. Old glasses or contacts with outdated vision correction power can make driving in the dark more hazardous. If you experience significant challenges seeing at night, you may have a condition called “nighttime myopia” and should visit your eye doctor for advice.
2. Avoid driving long distances in low-light conditions. Since we already know that driving in the dark can cause eye fatigue, dry eyes, and reduced visual acuity, it’s best to minimize the time you spend behind the wheel during dark hours. Whenever possible, plan your travel so that the majority of your driving time occurs during daylight hours.
3. Take frequent breaks. Even though it’s tempting to push through your fatigue and finish driving those last miles to your destination, it’s safer to give yourself (and your eyes) a break. Stopping for gas or at a rest area may improve your alertness and visual fatigue. Remember that impaired drivers are more likely to be on the road at night, so vigilance on your part may prevent an accident.
4. Decrease your night-time driving speed. If you do need to drive in the dark, doing so more slowly may prevent accidents. Traveling at a slower speed can improve reaction time under lower-visibility conditions.
5. Check your headlights. It is estimated that 50% of all motor vehicle headlights are not optimally aligned. Potholes and bumps in the road can jolt the lights out of alignment. It’s important not to look directly at oncoming headlights. This can temporarily blind you as your pupils adjust to a quick change in lighting conditions.
I have been wearing contact lenses for about twenty five years. Overall, I’ve been very happy with them, and have found that they have improved my vision as well as my self-esteem. As a very nearsighted person, my glasses have the proverbial “Coke bottle” lenses. Even though I’ve chosen “ultra-thin” lenses, the refractory nature of the plastic causes my eyes to appear unusually small, giving me the appearance of a juvenile badger (they have pretty small eyes for the size of their heads – check out the photo).
Needless to say, I prefer wearing contact lenses – but I must confess that I’ve been somewhat non-compliant in wearing them according to my eye doctor’s instructions. I’ve learned a few things from my mistakes, and from interviewing optometrists Jason Pingel and Christi Clausson about other patients who have been naughty. I will summarize six of the most common mistakes that contact lens wearers make, and explain what the potential harms can be. You can listen to the full podcast of this interesting interview, here:
Wearing Your Contact Lenses For Too Long – this was my biggest personal mistake. It’s tempting to wear your contact lenses beyond the recommended replacement schedule in order to save money, or for simple convenience. My contacts felt so comfortable that I’d wear them (don’t gasp in horror) for months at a time, even sleeping in them at night. But after a while my eyes started hurting when I took my contacts out, which just perpetuated the cycle of over-wear. In effect, I was depriving my corneas of oxygen for long enough to kill some of the superficial cells, so when I took my lenses out it was like removing a bandage from a wound. My corneas were sensitive to light, touch, and even the wind. This medical condition is called “superficial punctate keratitis” and although it’s reversible with eye rest, it is quite uncomfortable. If you wear your contacts for too long, this could happen to you.
Using Tap Water To Re-Wet Your Lenses – Sometimes when a piece of lint gets in your eye or your eyes are feeling dry you may be tempted to rinse your lenses with some tap water. Although that seems harmless enough, tap water is not safe for use with contact lenses. Tap water is not sterile, and it can contain bacteria or even protozoa that can cause serious damage to your eye. Just as you would never drink salt water, you should never expose your contacts to tap water. The risk of eye discomfort, alteration of the lens, pH imbalances, or even infection is not worth the risk.
Not Washing Your Contact Lens Case Regularly – At least a third of contact lens wearers report cleaning their cases monthly or less often. Obviously, mold spores and bacteria are not good for the eyes, so if you aren’t cleaning your lens case frequently you are putting yourself at risk for eye infection and allergies. Lens cases should be rubbed and rinsed with sterile solution recommended by your eye care provider, dried with a lint free towel or and allowed to air dry with both the case and cap(s) down before re-use.
Not Changing your Contact Lens Solution – Dr. Pingel told me that many of his patients admit to “topping off” their contact lens solution or storing them in the same solution from the day prior. This increases the risk of bacterial growth in the solution and lens case. The way I think of it – it’s like having a surgeon simply wipe off her instruments on her gown between patients. It’s much safer for her to dispose of the instruments or have them sterilized before the next use, right? The same goes for contact lenses and their solution.
Not Washing Your Hands Before Touching Your Eyes Or Lenses – Our hands are exposed to hundreds of different bacterial strains, molds, dirt, and chemicals every day. Not washing your hands with mild soap and water prior to touching your contacts is like touching your eyeball to a door knob. Why take the risk of introducing chemicals or bacteria into your delicate eye area? It’s very important to wash your hands carefully before insertion and removal of contact lenses so as not to increase your risk of infection, allergy, or chemical burns of the eye.
Not Sharing Your Contact Lenses With Others (Or Buying Them Without A Prescription) – While that might sound like an uncommon practice, it actually becomes an issue around Halloween time. With cosmetic lenses that can make your eyes look like anything from a cat to a zombie, it is tempting to share lenses with friends. However, you should not purchase or wear cosmetic lenses without an examination by an eye doctor and a prescription to ensure they fit safely and comfortably. Delicate corneal skin can be scratched, irritated, or even infected by unclean or ill-fitting lenses. No one wants their real eyes to look scary, right? So please don’t buy lenses without a prescription or share your lenses with others.
For more information about safe wear and care of contact lenses, I highly recommend that you check out the Healthy Vision & Contact Lenses e-brochure. It is a terrific summary of all the most important do’s and don’ts of contact lens wear and care – perfect for double-checking on your safe use behaviors, or teaching your kids/teens about how to care for their lenses. Or you can use my blog post and podcast to badger them (pun intended), if that’s more convenient.
Disclosure: Dr. Val Jones is a paid consultant for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.
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. Clearly, we need to do better at diagnosing and treating childhood visual deficits. My full conversation with Dr. Carlson can be listened to below:
Dr. Carlson told me that the solution involves Read more »
Back at the beginning of May, the Bird took a swipe at my left eyeball with her little birdie talon, ripping off a nice, solid chunk of my cornea and leaving me in some serious pain. It was a rough couple of days, especially because Chris was away for the week on business, but my family and friends pitched in to help with the baby and to allow me to heal.
I figured I was done with this issue.
“You may want to be careful about recurrence, Kerri. With this kind of injury, it does happen.” My eye doctor warned me, handing me a small tube of eye goop stuff. “This is Muro 128. Pull down your lower eyelid and smear this in there. It will help keep your eye coated while you sleep.”
(Oh eyeball injuries. You make me feel old, because if you Google “Muro 128,” you’ll see that this product is targeted at the 60+ crowd. Throw in a few tennis balls for my walker and I’m ready for my debut at the bingo hall.)
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