UV rays from the sun pose a threat to our eyes all year around and in all weather conditions. Just like our skin, our eyes can get burnt and develop serious complications in the long term from excessive exposure. Damage to our eyes also occurs even if it’s not sunny and not the middle of the day. Most of us are familiar with the dangers of spending too much time in the sun on hot, clear days. Our eyes can sustain damage from ultra-violet light at other times too:
How UV rays can reach our eyes
Direct exposure to sunlight
Reflected UV rays from
Water, snow (both significantly increases exposure)
Sand and concrete
Grass increase exposure to a certain extent
Clouds reflect and scatter light also
The angle of the sun to our eyes at the start and end of the day means more UV light can be absorbed by ocular tissue at these times than in the middle of the day.
Five steps to protect your eyes (tips from the optometry association)
1. Make sure you protect your eyes from UV, even on days you don’t think the sun’s rays may be as damaging e.g. when it’s overcast.
2. Limit exposure to UV as much as possible
3. Wear a broad brimmed hat as it can reduce the amount of UV reaching your eyes by 50%
4. For outdoor sports, sunglasses or UV blocking contact lenses should be considered.
5. Always use UV blocking lenses as well as another form of protection e.g. staying in shade or wearing a hat and sunscreen while outdoors.
Even relatively short bursts of exposure to UV can cause sore, red or irritated eyes. Other conditions that can arise from UV damage include hypersensitivity to light, pterygium, cancer of the eye lids and front surface of the eye, cataracts and macular complications. Ocular damage accumulates over time and it still adds up even if individual episodes aren’t particularly long.
It’s important to be aware that we are all vulnerable to damage from the sun and to protect our eyes from the UV rays it emits. Make UV protection part of your daily routine, all year round.
What is a cataract? Why do we get them?
Inside our eyes there is a natural lens, this sits just behind the iris, the coloured part of our eye. When this biological lens of the eye goes hazy it is called a cataract.
The lens of a young child is very thin and very clear, every day new lens fibres grow and the lens gets bigger. As the lens increases in size, its flexibility reduces correspondingly. This reduction in flexibility translates into less capability to change focus; hence, a child being able to see small objects within 10cm while most adults struggle to do this. As more and more fibres are added to the lens its transparency is no longer maintained. This is the most common way a cataract is formed.
Cataract is a general term referring to loss of transparency of the lens. Usually this hazing occurs gradually over time, as outlined above. Cataracts can be caused or develop earlier than they would naturally due to UV exposure, ocular trauma, disease or medication. The fibres of the lens are arranged in a very particular way and trauma can upset this arrangement which leads to reduced transparency. Conditions such as diabetes can cause cataracts to form earlier as can steroid use.
How can I tell whether I have a cataract?
Cataracts cause a number of symptoms including reduced vision, increased sensitivity to glare, loss of contrast sensitivity and/or a frequently changing spectacle prescription. An optometrist can diagnose and assess cataracts. If your cataract/s requires treatment you will be referred to an ophthalmologist.
What can be done?
Often nothing is done when a cataract is first diagnosed, in some cases they are monitored over a number of years. When vision is no longer adequate to comfortably perform day to day tasks such as reading or driving cataract surgery is considered.
Cataract surgery includes removing the hazy lens and replacing it with a clear plastic lens. Cataract surgery is a very safe procedure, in fact it is one of the most successful and commonly performed surgeries in first world countries.
We all recognise the importance of sunlight as well as the adverse affects of overexposure to it. Exposure to sunlight is crucial for general health, in particular vitamin D synthesis and pineal function regulation (our sleep-wake cycle, circardian rhythm, time perception etc).
To develop and function properly adequate lighting is very important for our eyes. Children who spend some time outdoors on a regular basis have reduced rates of certain eye conditions, for example short-sightedness.
So, what happens when our eyes get too much sunshine?
The main reason our eyes and skin are damaged from sun exposure is ultra-violet radiation, generally referred to as UV. UV is emitted from the sun in rays as visible light is but we can’t see it (because our retina can’t detect rays of that “wavelength”). A number of changes, in the short and long term, can occur to our eyes when they have too much UV exposure.
Short term effects (that can continue if exposure isn’t reduced) can include painful, red, watery eyes and feeling like there is sand in the eye. In extreme cases photokeratitis (‘light’ induced inflammation of the cornea) occurs. Depending on the means of acquisition, photokeratitis can be called welders flash or snow blindness.
In the long term over exposure to UV is linked to earlier cataract formation, tumours of the eyelid and pterygium development. There may also be a link between sun damage and macula degeneration – research is continuing in this area. It is currently thought that sun related damage to the macula may be related to high end visible light, i.e. blue/purple light (the front of the eye absorbs UV meaning it doesn’t get through to the retina).
It has been well established that limiting the amount of damaging UV rays that get to our eyes improves to ocular health. The most effective way of doing this is with a pair of sunglasses. Hats are also an excellent mode of UV protection; they shield parts of our face as well as our eyes but don’t adequately protect our eyes from reflected light. Another sun smart step to take is avoiding extended exposure to direct sunlight between 10 am and 2 pm.
Happy World Sight Day! We would like to thank everyone from around the world who is taking part in the World Sight Day Challenge by making a donation or fundraising - your support is helping to give sight and hope to people in need.
Our Optometrist Hannah McGowan, reached her goal on Sunday of completing a half marathon. We congratulate her on her achievement and Scenic Rim Optometrists thanks patients for their generous support in supporting this wonderful cause.
This is the latest video shared with you to celebrate World Sight Day. You'll meet 3 primary school children who got their first eye exams and glasses in August thanks to a School Screening Project in Tanzania that is funded by Optometry Giving Sight.
With new technology improving both spectacle frames and lenses it is important that you look after your glasses properly. This will ensure that they remain comfortable and your vision remains clear for a long time.
Glasses should be cleaned regularly. Every set of glasses you buy from us will come with a microfibre cleaning cloth, a case of your choice and a spray bottle filled with lens cleaner. Many other optometrists will charge you extra for these things, but we believe that looking after your glasses correctly is important, so we supply them free of charge.
The microfibre cloth is great for cleaning your glasses when you’re out and about. It may be a good idea to keep this in your glasses case, and if you get small marks like dirt or fingerprints on your glasses during the day this is perfect for polishing the lenses.
Periodically your glasses will also need a good clean. To wash your glasses, you should use a small amount of hand soap or gentle detergent to clean your lenses and frames with your fingertips. Once you have washed your glasses rinse them under luke-warm water. If your water for washing your dishes isn’t too hot, you can also wash your glasses in the dish water before you wash any dishes in it.
If the frames are clean, you can also use the spray cleaner to spray the lenses front and back, dry with a soft tissue and then polish with your microfiber cloth. NEVER clean your lenses with a tissue if the lenses are dry. This will put little scratches in the lens and will eventually destroy the lens. Likewise, cleaning your glasses on a t-shirt or paper towel isn’t a good idea as these methods of cleaning will also eventually destroy the lenses.
Glaucoma is a degenerative disease of the optic nerve that can result in tunnel vision or blindness. The optic nerve is made up of nerve fibres that transmit information from our eye to our brain, so if these nerves become damaged then visual information is prevented from reaching the brain.
Glaucoma can be associated with a build up of pressure in the eye. The eye is normally filled with clear fluid which is constantly being drained and replaced. High pressure of this gel results when excessive amounts of gel are produced or when something blocks the drainage of gel from the eye. In some forms of glaucoma the pressure of this gel can become extremely high, while in other forms the pressure may remain normal.
In some cases of glaucoma the cause is unknown and in some forms of glaucoma damage to the drainage network of the eye can cause the pressure to increase. You have a higher risk of getting glaucoma is it is in your family.
Glacuoma is called ‘the sneak thief of sight’ because, in its early stages, there are no symptoms. In rare cases the increased pressure in the eye will cause blurred vision, coloured haloes around lights or pain in the eye, but most people are unaware that they have the disease.
If left untreated glaucoma will cause damage to the optic nerve fibres that result in tunnel vision and eventually blindness. Once damage has occurred it cannot be reversed, although most of the time it is possible to prevent further damage.
To diagnose glaucoma your optometrist or ophthalmologist will look at your optic nerve at the back of the eye, measure the pressure of the gel inside your eye, look at the eye’s drainage network, ask about any family history of glaucoma, and measure your peripheral vision. All of these tests are simple and painless.
Eye drops are still the most common treatment of glaucoma, although laser surgery can be used today as well. In some patients surgery may be necessary if the drops and laser don’t stop the progression of the disease. However, in most cases glaucoma is detected early and treated successfully to prevent any deterioration in vision.
Dry eye is a common eye condition caused by decreased tear production or increased tear film evaporation. Any abnormality of any one of the three layers of tears (water, mucous and oil) produces an unstable tear film, resulting in symptoms of dry eye. Typical symptoms are dryness, burning and a sandy-gritty eye irritation that gets worse as the day goes on. Symptoms may also be described as itchy, scratchy, stingy or tired eyes. Although it may seem strange, dry eye can cause the eyes to water. This can happen because the eyes are irritated.
Dry eye can affect people of all ages. It can be exacerbated by many factors including the environment (particularly dry or windy weather and heaters or air conditioning), cigarette smoke, concentration for long periods of time, contact lens wear, aging, hormonal changes, medications, inflammation of the eyelids and some arthritis related conditions.
An optometrist or ophthalmologist is the most appropriate person to diagnose dry eye. These eye care practitioners will conduct tests which investigate the structures of the front of the eye, the tear film, the tear production and the tear evaporation.
The way in which dry eye is treated depends on the cause and severity of the condition. Mild dry eye can be managed by using ocular lubricants. Lubricating eye drops or gels do not cure dry eye, but they do provide symptomatic relief by replacing the tears, moisturising and lubricating the eye. If dry eye is caused by problems with inflammation of the eyelids or blockages of the glands in the eyelids, hot compresses or lid scrubs may also help treat the condition. More recently, it has also been shown that Omega 3 supplementation may help to improve dry eye symptoms.
Dry eyes can be exacerbated by smoky environments, dust and air conditioning and by our natural tendency to reduce our blink rate when concentrating. Purposefully blinking, especially during computer use or long distance driving, and resting tired eyes are basic steps that can be taken to minimise discomfort.
While it is common knowledge that smoking can be damaging to our general health, you may be unaware that smokers are also at a greater risk of developing eye complications.
To generate the energy needed for the eye to function properly, a continuous flow of oxygen and nutrients must be present. Smoking reduces the blood supply that is critical to the eyes by narrowing the blood vessels and thickening the blood. Tobacco smoke is also made up of many toxic chemicals that are potentially damaging to the eyes.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease affecting the macula, the central part of the retina at the back of the eye. The macula is responsible for your detailed vision like reading, driving, recognising faces and using the computer, so AMD reduces your ability to perform these tasks. Smokers are 4 times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers. While there is no cure for AMD, reducing or ceasing tobacco consumption is the most important preventable risk factor to date.
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens inside the eye, causing blurred vision, sensitivity to glare, loss of contrast and difficulty seeing colours. While cataracts usually develop with age, smokers develop cataracts earlier and more severely.
Cigarette smoke is highly irritating to the outer layers of the eye. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause watery eyes, red eyes, stinging, prickling or burning sensations. Smokers are 82% more likely to develop dry eye than non-smokers. Non-smokers may also experience these eye irritations by passive exposure to second-hand smoke.
Strabismus is the turning of an eye or eyes. It is a problem in children that requires intervention through spectacles, patching, eye exercises, surgery, or a combination of these treatments. Smoking during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of strabismus in children.
Not all smokers will experience eye problems, and not all non-smokers will miss out on eye problems, but being a non-smoker significantly reduces your risk of developing some eye complications. If anyone you know needs help to quit smoking call the Quitline on 13 78 48 or visit http://www.quitnow.gov.au/internet/quitnow/publishing.nsf/Content/warnings-b-eye.
Australian of the Year says it’s personal – let’s stop Australians going blind for Macular Degeneration Awareness Week 26 May – 1 June 2013
Championing Macular Degeneration Awareness Week, Ita Buttrose Australian of the Year 2013, and Patron of the Macular Disease Foundation Australia, is leading the fight against macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness and vision loss in Australia. One in seven Australians over the age of 50 (1 million people) show some evidence of macular degeneration and this will rise 70%, to 1.7 million, by 2030 in the absence of prevention and treatment measures. North Tamborine optometrist, Nicky Carr, is reminding people over 50 years to have their eyes tested and their macula checked in the lead up to Macular Degeneration Awareness Week.
For Ita Buttrose it’s personal, ‘I was terribly upset when my late father told me he had macula degeneration. As a journalist and an author, dad always started the day reading a couple of newspapers, suddenly this was no longer possible. I couldn’t imagine not being able to read again. Macular degeneration is a devastating disease,’ said Ita.
Nicky says, ‘there are some key ways we can fight this disease and the first step is to have an eye test and macula check. Secondly, do not ignore any changes in vision. Early detection can literally save your sight. Contact your optometrist immediately if you have any sudden changes in your vision.’
CEO of the Macula Degeneration Foundation Australia, Julie Heraghty said, ‘many people would be surprised to know the importance of diet and lifestyle in reducing the risk and progression of macula degeneration. In fact, smoking causes blindness, so don’t smoke. Eat dark green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, fish and take appropriate supplements if required.’
Australians should also be aware of the symptoms of macular degeneration which can include one or more of the following:
· Difficulty with reading or any other activity with fine vision
· Distortion where straight lines appear wavy or bent
· Distinguishing faces becomes a problem
· Dark patches or empty spaces appear in the centre of your vision.
‘Macular Degeneration Awareness Week is a great reminder to make an appointment to visit your optometrist and to contact the Macular Disease Foundation Australia on 1800 111 709 or visit www.mdfoundation.com.au for a free information kit and Amsler grid,’ said Ms Buttrose.
For an appointment please phone Scenic Rim Optometrists on 5541 9510.