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Eye Health

Exercise and Your Eye Health

Regular exercise is an essential component of overall health and wellness. It is proven that exercise reduces sickness and disease; it increases strength, immunity, and mental health; and it also helps regulate bodily functions and maintain a healthy weight. Research shows that exercise can lower our risk of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema, as well as other eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts and wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Whereas, a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of these diseases and of vision loss, studies show that even moderate exercise at least three times a week can improve the prognosis of the above-mentioned chronic illnesses and reduce the risks of developing vision threatening eye diseases.

Inactivity is an even higher risk factor if you have other co-factors for developing eye diseases, including: a family history, previous eye injury or surgery, diabetes, high blood pressure or very high myopia. A combination of healthy lifestyle habits which include regular exercise and a nutritious diet and tending to your mental and emotional well-being can reduce these risks significantly.

Tips for Incorporating Physical Activity Into Your Day

  1. Make it a priority. Schedule your exercise time into your day as if it is a non-negotiable appointment. Find the time of day that works best – for some that is early morning and for others late at night. Work your way up to a half hour at least three times a week.
  2. Be realistic. You don’t need to become a fitness expert to experience the benefits of exercise. Walking, yoga, swimming, even dancing around the house are all options for staying fit. Find a type of exercise that you love so you will enjoy working this habit into your life.
  3. Just move. Find ways to move your body throughout your day. Park your car a little further away from the mall entrance, take the stairs instead of the elevator or walk or bike to work. Remember, every little bit of movement helps.
  4. Find something you enjoy. Often finding the right exercise is a good stress reliever, and reducing stress will also reduce risk of many chronic diseases.
  5. It’s never too late. Exercise for the elderly can be a challenge especially during the cold winter months, when many seniors can’t get out of the house due to the weather. Even walking up and down the stairs in the house or following an exercise video can be helpful to keep from being sedentary.

Protection & Prevention

If you are exercising outdoors or playing contact sports, make sure to protect your eyes with sunglasses or sports safety glasses to ensure your eye health and safety.

Regular exercise can significantly decrease your risks of certain eye conditions but you still have to ensure that you visit your eye doctor for regular exams. Schedule a comprehensive eye exam every year to ensure your vision and your eyes are healthy and to catch any possible problems as early as possible.

Eye health and disease prevention are just two of the many health and wellness benefits you gift yourself when you make exercise a regular part of your lifestyle. Speak to your doctor if you have any health issues that need to be considered. At any age or level of physical fitness, you can find some form of exercise that works for you.

 

Healthy Aging for the Eyes

Getting old doesn’t have to be synonymous with vision loss. There is a lot you can do to keep your eyes and vision healthy and prevent age related eye disease and vision loss, especially if you start early. Keeping your eyes healthy and strong may require some lifestyle changes, but the good news is that these improvements will contribute to your overall health and wellness, not just your eyes.

There are a number of ocular diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy that primarily affect older adults, which can cause impaired vision and even blindness. Sometimes, they are caused by an accumulation of a lifetime of unhealthy habits; changing these poor habits may be the best form of prevention.

Here are some of the most critical lifestyle risk factors for eye disease, and what you can do to reduce your risks.

Diet

Eating healthy is about much more than weight loss. Nutritious foods give your body the ability to fight disease and function optimally. On the other hand, what you put in your body can also cause disease, inflammation, and upset your body’s homeostasis. Choose a healthy, balanced diet: it’s never too late.

Sugar, processed foods and unhealthy fats can increase your risk for eye disease and many other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. In contrast, colorful fruits and vegetables, particularly greens, can help to fight and prevent these same diseases. In fact, studies show that people who eat a healthy diet full of greens, healthy fats (such as Omega-3s) and proteins, and a variety of foods full of vitamins and minerals (such as antioxidants like lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamins A and C) have reduced occurrence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cataracts and macular degeneration.

Try to eat a diet of at least 5-9 servings a day of fruits and vegetables rich and varied in natural color to get the most nutrients. Reduce your intake of sugar, refined grains (such as white bread and pasta) and processed foods and drinks. Eat mostly whole grains and real, natural foods as much as possible and drink plenty of water.

Ultraviolet (UV) and Blue Light Exposure

More and more studies are showing that extended exposure to UV and blue light emissions correlate to increased incidences of eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. To avoid this, all you need is some proper eye protection. 100% UV blocking sunglasses should be worn each time you go outside (rain or shine) and, if you work on a computer or use an electronic device for at a couple of hours a day or more, it’s worthwhile investing in blue-light blocking computer glasses. There are also some filters and apps available to reduce blue-light exposure from digital devices and screens.

Smoking

We all know that smoking is bad for you, and eye disease is just another way it can have a negative impact on your health. Studies show that smoking increases the risk of dry eye syndrome, cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration as well as diabetic retinopathy.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Once again, what is healthy for your body, is healthy for your eyes. Studies correlate regular exercise with lower risk of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic eye disease. Working a regular exercise routine into your schedule is important for your health and longevity. Being more active in your daily life can help too – walking up and down the steps in your house a few times, taking the stairs instead of an elevator or parking farther away from your destination are easy and free ways to incorporate physical activity into your everyday life. Additionally, individuals with diabetes who exercise regularly show less development of diabetic retinopathy. The recommended guidelines for diabetics (and most individuals) are a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week such as 30 minutes five times a week or three sessions of 50 minutes each.

Preventative Care (Regular Eye Exam)

Vision threatening eye diseases can often be caught and treated early, preventing further vision loss and sometimes even reversing damage. This is where annual comprehensive eye exams are key. You don’t want to wait until you have symptoms to get checked by your eye doctor because many eye diseases don’t present any signs until vision is lost and it is too late to fully recover. A yearly comprehensive eye exam can detect slight changes in your eye that could indicate a developing problem. Early detection can dramatically improve your chances for restored eye health and vision preservation.

When it comes to eye health, awareness and actions for prevention can have a huge impact on reducing your risks. Don’t wait until it is too late. Even small steps toward a healthier lifestyle can make a difference to your future eye health.

Women’s Eye Health – 7 Tips for Optimal Vision for Life

woman in black and white topApril is Women’s Eye Health Month in the USA and May is Healthy Vision month in Canada too, so let’s take the opportunity to look at some tips for maintaining eye and vision health, with a special focus on women.

Statistically, women are more at risk than men for eye disease, visual impairment and blindness, especially after age 40. In fact, when it comes to serious age-related eye diseases, women represent well over half of the cases, with 61% of glaucoma cases and 65% of age-related macular degeneration cases being female. Women are also more prone to cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye syndrome and untreated refractive errors.

One of the reasons for women’s increased risk of age-related eye disease is that they statistically live longer than men. In fact, a recent study showed that there are twice as many women than men over the age of 85 in America. Additionally, not only are they living longer but they are sometimes they’re working longer as well, which often involves added computer and device use, so they tend to suffer more from conditions exacerbated by blue light and ultraviolet exposure such as dry eyes and eyestrain.

The good news is there are certain lifestyle changes that women can make to reduce that increased risk of developing age-related eye diseases. In many cases, blindness and visual impairment are preventable or treatable with proper awareness and precautions.

Here are seven lifestyle tips to protect your eyes and vision and reduce your risks of vision-threatening eye diseases:

  1. Protect your eyes from UV exposure.
    UV radiation has been implicated as a risk factor for a number of eye diseases including macular degeneration and cataracts. Sunglasses should be more than a fashion statement, they should have high quality lenses that fully block UVA and UVB rays. Further, sunglasses shouldn’t be reserved for the summer. UV rays can penetrate clouds and bounce off snow and water, so rock your shades year round, any time you go outside.
  2. Exercise regularly and eat a proper diet.
    Studies show that regular exercise and a diet rich in a variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins and fats promotes eye health. Reduce sugar, processed foods, and white flour and of course refrain from smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. This is the recipe not only for improved eye health, but for the health of your whole body and mind as well.
  3. Take care of chronic conditions.
    If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or chronic stress, managing these conditions will reduce your chances of developing eye diseases. Make sure you take care of your overall health, as it is all related to the health of your eyes.
  4. Throw away expired makeup and skincare products, and replace brushes periodically.
    Many women habitually use makeup and skincare products beyond their expiration dates. This can be problematic, especially with liquid products and those that you apply close to the eyes, as they can carry harmful bacteria which can cause infections and irritation. Check your products regularly and toss any that are past their prime.
  5. Clean eyes from makeup daily.
    Eye cosmetics are a frequent cause of dry eye, as they can block glands within the lids. Beyond eye irritation, styes or other eye infections can result, so do yourself a favor and clean your eyelids are carefully at the end of the day.
  6. Steer clear of over-the-counter contact lenses!
    Colored contact lenses in particular are frequently worn by women. It is important to be fitted by a trained eye care professional for any pair of contact lenses, even if you don’t need vision correction. Contact lenses bought without a prescription and proper fitting can seriously damage the eyes.
  7. Schedule regular eye exams.
    Many of the serious eye diseases mentioned above require early diagnosis and treatment to prevent vision loss. When caught early, vision can be saved or restored; otherwise permanent damage can occur. That’s why it’s critical to schedule comprehensive eye exams on a regular basis to check in on your eye health and identify any early signs of disease. Your eye doctor should also know about your family history and any other relevant lifestyle concerns that may put you at a higher risk of certain conditions.

Vision loss can be a devastating blow to one’s quality of life and independence, but so much of it can be prevented. Education and lifestyle changes can be key to helping women to live a long life with clear vision and healthy eyes.

The Sneak Thief of Sight

It’s that time of year again. January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, a time set aside each year to create awareness about this potentially devastating disease. The reason awareness about glaucoma is so important is because as its nickname, The Sneak Thief of Sight, describes, the disease often causes permanent damage to your eyes and vision without any noticeable symptoms, until it’s too late. In fact, up to 40% of your vision could be lost without any noticeable symptoms! This is why awareness and early detection are essential for effective treatment.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide. It is a group of eye diseases that results in damage to the optic nerve, which can lead to vision loss and eventual blindness.

Most cases of glaucoma occur without obvious symptoms. Often people think they will experience headache or eye pain, however this is largely a misconception. There are several types of glaucoma and only one, angle closure glaucoma, typically presents with pain.

Treatment for Glaucoma

While there is still no cure for glaucoma, there are medications and surgical procedures that are able to prevent and slow any further vision loss. However, any vision that is lost is irreversible, usually. Again, this is why early detection is key to stopping and preventing vision loss and blindness. Glaucoma screening includes a number of tests. Many people believe the “air-puff” test used to measure eye pressure is what detects glaucoma, but this is not the whole picture. In fact, many people can develop glaucoma with normal eye pressure. Today newer technologies are available, such as OCT (like an ultrasound), which allow eye doctors to look directly at the optic nerve to assess glaucoma progression. The treatment plan depends on a number of factors including the type of glaucoma and severity of the eye damage.

While anyone can be affected by glaucoma, there are certain risk factors that are known to increase the likelihood of getting the disease. Being aware of the risk factors and knowing whether you are at higher risk puts you in a better position to take steps toward prevention, including regular screenings by an eye doctor. Here are some of the major risk factors:

Glaucoma Risk Factors

  • Over 60 years old (over 40 for African Americans)
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • African or Hispanic descent
  • Previous eye injury or surgery – even a childhood eye injury can lead to glaucoma decades later
  • Diabetes
  • High nearsightedness or farsightedness
  • Cortisone steroid use (in the form of eye drops, pills, creams etc.)

Glaucoma Prevention

Now that you know the risk factors, what can you do to prevent glaucoma? Here are some guidelines for an eye healthy lifestyle that can prevent glaucoma, as well as many other eye and not-eye related diseases:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Exercise daily
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Prevent UV exposure (by wearing sunglasses, protective clothing and sunscreen when outdoors)
  • Get regular comprehensive eye exams – and make sure to tell your eye doctor if you have risk factors for glaucoma
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in a large variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, vitamins A, C, E and D, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids

Even if you have 20/20 vision, you may still have an asymptomatic eye disease such as glaucoma. Glaucoma Awareness is step one in prevention but there is a lot more to do to keep your eyes and vision safe. During January, make a commitment to take the following additional steps toward glaucoma prevention:

  1. Assess your risk factors
  2. Schedule a comprehensive eye exam and discuss glaucoma with your eye doctor. Even if you feel you have clear vision, it is worthwhile to book an eye exam in order to detect eye diseases such as this “Sneak Thief”.
  3. Adopt the healthy, preventative lifestyle guidelines outlined above
  4. Spread the word. Talk about glaucoma to friends and family to ensure that they too can become aware and take steps to prevent glaucoma from stealing their sight.

 

10 Eye Healthy Foods to Eat This Year

The New Year is coming and many people include healthier eating and exercise in their resolutions for the year ahead. Well other than weight loss and overall health and disease-prevention, a healthy diet and regular exercise can protect your eyes and your vision. In particular, there are certain vitamins and minerals that are known to prevent eye disease and act to strengthen and safeguard your eyes. Here are 10 foods that you should make sure to include in your healthy diet regimen this coming year and for the rest of your life.

  1. Dark, leafy green vegetables: Greens like kale, spinach or collards are rich in vitamin C which strengthens the blood vessels in your eyes and may prevent cataracts, and vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin which are known to prevent cataracts and reduce the risk and slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
  2. Orange vegetables and fruits: Orange foods such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, cantaloupe, mangoes, orange peppers and apricots are rich in beta-carotene which improves night vision and may slow the progression of AMD, specifically when taken in combination with zinc and vitamins C and E.
  3. Oily Fish: Fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna or trout are a complete source of Omega-3 fatty acids which boost the immune system and protect the cells and nervous system. They are essential for retinal function and the development of the eye and vision. Omega-3s can alleviate dry eye symptoms and guard against AMD and glaucoma. They are also rich in vitamin D which may also reduce the risk of AMD.
  4. Beans and legumes: Beans and legumes such as chickpeas, black-eyes peas, kidney beans and lentils are high in zinc. Zinc is a trace mineral that assists in the production of melanin, a pigment that protects the eye. Zinc is found in a high concentration in the eye in general, specifically in the retina and the surrounding tissues. Zinc can reduce night blindness and may help in reducing the risk and progression of AMD.
  5. Eggs: Eggs pack a big punch in terms of valuable vitamins and minerals. They are rich in zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin, and vitamins D and A. In addition to the eye benefits already discussed, vitamin A protects against night blindness and may prevent dry eyes. Some eggs are also a source of Omega 3.
  6. Squash: Squash is also a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin and vitamin C. Winter squash also has vitamin A and Omega 3 fatty acids, while summer squash is a good source of zinc.
  7. Cruciferous vegetables: These vegetables which include broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts have a power combination of nutrients including vitamins, A, C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. These antioxidant compounds protect the cells in your body and your eyes from free radicals that can break down healthy tissue and cause disease.
  8. Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds, peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds are rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Flax and chia seeds also good sources of omega 3, vitamins and antioxidants. These boost your body’s natural protection against AMD, dry eye, and other diseases.
  9. Lean meat, poultry, oysters and crab meat: These animal products are all good sources of zinc.
  10. Berries: Berries such as strawberries, cherries and blueberries are rich in bioflavonoids which may protect the eyes against AMD and cataracts.

Many patients ask about taking vitamins or supplements for eye health nutrients and the answer depends on the individual. While some of the eye nutrients may be better absorbed in the correct proportions when ingested as food rather than supplements, some patients have sensitivities or conditions (such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease or allergies) that prevent them from eating certain foods such as fish or leafy greens. In these cases there are a number of good lutein and Omega 3 supplements that they might be able to tolerate better than ingesting the actual food. Seek the advice of your eye doctor to determine what is right for you. While studies have indicated that higher levels of certain vitamins are required to slow the progression of certain eye diseases like AMD, these supplements should only be taken under the guidance of your eye doctor.

This list may seem overwhelming but if you focus on filling your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables of all types and colors, eating whole foods and limiting processed foods and sugar, you are on your way to preventing disease and improving your eye health and your overall health for years to come. To health!

Does Smoking Affect Vision?

Eye Doctors Weigh In: How Smoking Can Harm Your Vision & Eye Health

We all know that smoking is bad for you, especially the risks that it poses to your heart and lungs. What many people do not know is that cigarette smoke negatively affects your eyes and vision too. Smoking has been directly linked to an increase in the risks of both cataracts and macular degeneration, two leading causes of vision loss, and it is believed to be a factor in a number of other eye and vision issues. 

Smoking and Cataracts

Studies show that smoking doubles the risk of cataracts and with heavy smoking, the risk triples. In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of smoking and the likelihood of cataracts. Cataracts are characterised by the clouding of the lens of the eye and it is believed that smoking affects the cells of the lens, accelerating this process. 

Cataracts are a leading cause of vision loss worldwide, however they can be treated surgically by removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an artificial one. Symptoms include: 

    • Blurred, cloudy or dim vision 
    • Sensitivity to light and glare
    • Presence of halos around lights
    • Increasingly poor night vision
    • Fading color vision
    • Double vision
    • and frequent prescription changes with minimal improvement in vision 

Smoking and Age-Related Macular Degeneration

According to medical research, smoking increases the likelihood of developing age-related macular degeneration between two and four times the normal risk – the more you smoke, the greater the risk. Unfortunately, there is also an increased risk for those exposed to cigarette smoke for extended periods of time. 

Age-related macular degeneration or AMD is a condition in which the macula, which is the center of the retina, begins to to deteriorate, reducing central vision and the eye’s ability to see fine details. The disease is characterized by blurred and distorted eyesight and blind spots in the central vision. With time, the disease can progress to leave the person with low vision, which is significant vision loss that cannot be corrected by eyeglasses, contact lenses or refractive surgery. 

Other Eye and Vision Risks of Smoking

Smoking has also been linked to dry eyes, optic nerve damage and diabetic retinopathy (for those with diabetes). 

“Eye Vitamins” are often used without doctor’s recommendations. Smokers are cautioned not to take beta-carotene supplements, specifically, (or multi-vitamins containing this ingredient) as studies indicate there is increased risk of cancer even in people who quit smoking.

What to Do?

Even if you have been smoking for years, quitting will reduce the risks of developing these conditions, for yourself and those around you. If you do smoke, make sure to schedule a comprehensive eye exam every year to catch any developing disease early. Early diagnosis and treatment can be the key to saving your vision and preventing permanent vision loss. 

April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month

Hey women! Did you know that women are more likely to suffer from vision problems and are at higher risk of permanent vision loss than men? Well 91% of the women surveyed recently didn’t know that, which means that many of them aren’t taking the necessary precautions to prevent eye damage and vision loss.

According to a recent study, the statistics for many of the major vision problems show that women have a higher percentage of incidence than men. These include:

  • Age-related Macular Degeneration 65%
  • Cataracts 61%
  • Glaucoma 61%
  • Refractive Error 56%
  • Vision Impairment 63%

Women are also more susceptible to develop chronic dry eye, partially because it is often associated with other health issues that are more common in women such as ocular rosacea which is three times more prevalent in women. Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause can also contribute to dry eye.

It’s important for women to know the risks for eye-related diseases and vision impairment and the steps they can take to prevent eventual vision loss. Here are some ways that you can help to protect your eyes and save your eyesight:

  • Find out about family history of eye diseases and conditions.
  • Protect your eyes from the sun by wearing 100% UV blocking sunglasses when outdoors.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Consume a healthy diet with proper nutrition and special eye health supplements as prescribed by an eye doctor.
  • Adhere to contact lens hygiene and safety.
  • Adhere to cosmetic hygiene and safety precautions.
  • Protect your eyes against extended exposure to blue light from computers, smartphones and LED lamps.
  • If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and have diabetes, see an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam. In women who have diabetes, diabetic retinopathy can accelerate quickly during pregnancy and can present a risk for the baby as well.

Mothers are often charged with caring for the eye health of the entire family, but too often their own eye health needs fall to the wayside. It is critical that mothers take care of their eyes and overall health so that they can be in the best condition to care for their families.

Speak to your eye care professional about your personal eye health and vision risks and the precautions and measures you should take to protect your eyes. Encourage the other women in your life to do so as well. Once vision is lost, it often can’t be regained and there are many steps you can take to prevent it with proper knowledge and awareness.

The most important way to prevent vision loss is to ensure you schedule regular eye exams. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear as many eye issues are painless and symptomless, and sometimes by the time you notice symptoms, vision loss is untreatable.

6 Ways to Prevent Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

blond womanpink flowers

Age-related macular degeneration is a serious condition that can threaten your vision and general well-being. Characterized by the deterioration of the central area of the retina called the macula which is responsible for focused vision, the disease gradually reduces your central vision. This affects the ability to see fine details, recognize faces, read, drive, watch television and even use a computer. The disease often leaves some vision resulting in a condition called low vision, which is considered a form of legal blindness. 

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in the older population and the numbers are expected to increase as Americans and Canadians continue to live longer. 

What causes AMD and how can it be prevented?

As you can see by the name, the primary risk factor of AMD is age, particularly over age 50. Caucasian women are the most common demographic to be hit with this ocular disease; family medical history and having lighter colored hair, skin and eyes play a large role as well. However, several lifestyle factors have been shown to cause an increase in AMD development; so there may be ways to reduce your risk, even if you have a genetic predisposition.  

In fact, most of the controllable risk factors pose general health risks that cause a plethora of health issues, so addressing them will boost your overall health and wellness, in addition to protecting your eyes and vision from AMD. Here are 6 ways to prevent AMD and the vision loss that accompanies it:

1. Stop Smoking

Smoking, and even living with a smoker, have been shown to significantly increase your risks of developing AMD to between 2-5 times the risk of non-smokers! If you also have a hereditary risk, smoking compounds that risk tremendously.   

2. Get Active 

Studies show that obesity and a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk of advanced macular degeneration that leads to significant vision loss. Maintaining a healthy weight and being active  can reduce your risk. That could be as easy as regular walking, at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes.

3. Control Blood Pressure

Since the eye contains many tiny blood vessels, high blood pressure can have a serious impact on the health of your eyes. Have your blood pressure checked by your doctor and follow any medical advice you are given to reduce high blood pressure, whether that includes diet, exercise or medication. 

4. Choose a Healthy Diet

A diet rich in antioxidants has been shown to protect against AMD.  Antioxidants can be found in abundance in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale and collard greens, as well as orange fruits and vegetables such as peppers, oranges, mango and cantaloupe.  Eating a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, 5-9 servings a day, as well as fish, which contain Omega-3, and avoiding sugar and processed foods will help to keep your body healthy in many ways, including reducing your risk of AMD.  

5. Use UV and Blue Light Protection

Long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun and blue light (from digital devices among other things) have been linked to AMD. Make sure you wear sunglasses every time you are exposed to sunlight and wear blue light blocking glasses when you are viewing a digital device or computer for extended periods of time. 

6. Take Supplements*

Certain nutritional supplements have been shown to slow the progression of AMD and the vision loss that accompanies it. This formula of supplements was developed from a 10 year study of 3,500 people with AMD called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and its successor AREDS2. It is not recommended to take supplementation as a preventative measure but rather only if you are diagnosed with intermediate or advanced AMD.

*Speak to your eye doctor before you make a decision about this option.

During your yearly comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor will screen for early signs of AMD and recommend treatment if it’s detected. If you’re at greater risk – because of your age or a family history of AMD / blindness of unknown cause, for example – additional testing may be necessary.

AMD can be a devastating disease. If you are aware that you are at risk, it is worthwhile to do everything you can to prevent it and the vision loss that it can bring. Take the time to understand AMD and do what it takes to lower your chances of knowing its effects first-hand. 

Are You Missing Your Child’s Hidden Vision Problem?

Cute smiling boy with glasses 1280x853

Your toddler may show every sign of good eyesight including the ability to see objects in the distance, however that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she doesn’t have a vision problem.

Amblyopia is one common eye condition that is often hidden behind the appearance of good eyesight.  

Also known as “lazy eye” it usually occurs when the brain begins to ignore the signals sent by one eye, often because that eye is weaker and doesn’t focus properly. Sometimes it can occur in both eyes, in which case it’s called bilateral amblyopia. This eye condition is especially common in preemies, and tends to run in families as well, so it’s important to provide your eye doctor with a complete medical and family history.

There are several factors that can cause amblyopia to develop. These include:

  • astigmatism, 
  • high nearsightedness or farsightedness, 
  • uneven eye development as an infant,
  • congenital cataract (clouding of the lens of the eye),
  • strabismus (where the eyes are misaligned or “cross-eyed”)

However in many cases of amblyopia there may be no obvious visible structural differences in the eye. In addition to the fact that the eyes may look normal, vision often appears fine as the brain is able to compensate for the weaker eye by favoring the stronger one. Because of this, many children live with their eye condition for years before it is diagnosed. Unfortunately, as a person ages, the brain loses some of its plasticity (how easy it is to train the brain to develop new skills), making it much harder – if not impossible – to treat amblyopia in older children and adults. That’s why it’s so important for infants and young children to have a thorough eye exam.

Are There Any Signs of Amblyopia?

If you notice your child appears cross-eyed, that would be an indication that it’s time for a comprehensive eye exam to screen for strabismus and amblyopia development.

Preschoolers with amblyopia sometimes show signs of unusual posture when playing, such as head tilting, clumsiness or viewing things abnormally close.

However, often there are no signs or symptoms. The child typically does not complain, as he or she does not know what normal vision should look like. Sometimes the condition is picked up once children begin reading if have difficulty focusing on the close text. The school nurse may suggest an eye exam to confirm or rule out amblyopia following a standard vision test on each eye, though it might be possible to pass a vision screening test and still have amblyopia. Only an eye doctor can make a definitive diagnosis of the eye condition.

So How Do You Know If or When To Book a Pediatric Eye Exam?

Comprehensive eye and vision exams should be performed on children at an early age. That way, hidden eye conditions would be diagnosed while they’re still more easily treatable. An eye exam is recommended at 6 months of age and then again at 3 years old and before entering first grade. The eye doctor may need to use eye drops to dilate the pupils to confirm a child’s true refractive error and diagnose an eye condition such as amblyopia.

Treatment for Amblyopia

Glasses alone will not completely correct vision with amblyopia in most cases, because the brain has learned to process images from the weak eye or eyes as blurred images, and ignore them. There are several non-surgical treatment options for amblyopia. While your child may never achieve 20/20 vision as an outcome of the treatment and may need some prescription glasses or contact lenses, there are options that can significantly improve visual acuity.

Patch or Drops

In order to improve vision, one needs to retrain the brain to receive a clear image from the weak eye or eyes. In the case of unilateral amblyopia (one eye is weaker than the other), this usually involves treating the normal eye with a patch or drops to force the brain to depend on the weak eye. This re-establishes the eye-brain connection with the weaker one and strengthens vision in that eye. If a child has bilateral amblyopia, treatment involves a regimen of constantly wearing glasses and/or contact lenses with continual observation over time. 

Your eye doctor will prescribe the number of waking hours that patching is needed based on the visual acuity in your child’s weak eye; however, the periods of time that you chose to enforce wearing the patch may be flexible. During patching the child typically does a fun activity requiring hand eye coordination to stimulate visual development (such as a favorite video game, puzzle, maze etc) as passive activity is not as effective. 

The earlier treatment starts, the better the chances are of stopping or reversing the negative patterns formed in the brain that harm vision. Amblyopia treatment with patches or drops may be minimally effective in improving vision as late as the early teen years (up to age 14) but better results are seen in younger patients.

Vision Therapy

Many optometrists recommend vision therapy to train the eyes using exercises that strengthen the eye-brain connection. While success rates tend to be better in children, optometrists have also seen improvements using this occupational therapy type program to treat amblyopia in adults. 

The key to improvement through any non-surgical treatment for amblyopia is compliance. Vision therapy exercises must be practiced on a regular basis. Children that are using glasses or contact lenses for treatment, must wear them consistently. Your eye doctor will recommend the schedule of the patching, drops, or vision therapy eye exercise and the best course of treatment.

Amblyopia: Take-home Message

Even if your child is not showing any signs of vision problems, and especially if they are, it is important to have an eye examination with an eye doctor as soon as possible, and on a regular basis. While the eyes are still young and developing, diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions such as amblyopia are greatly improved.

10 Tips to Teach Children About Eye Safety

girl in funny glassesIt is important to teach your children about eye health and safety from a young age. This includes awareness about how your overall health habits affect your eyes and vision as well as how to keep your eyes safe from injury and infection. Starting off with good eye habits at a young age will help to create a lifestyle that will promote eye and vision health for a lifetime.

10 Eye Health Tips for All:

  1. Eat right. Eating a balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables (especially green leafies such as kale, spinach and broccoli) as well as omega-3s found in fish, such as salmon, tuna and halibut, help your eyes get the proper nutrients they need to function at their best.
  2. Exercise. An active lifestyle has been shown to reduce the risk of developing a number of eye diseases as well as diabetes – a disease which which can result in blindness.
  3. Don’t Smoke. Smoking has been linked to increased risk of a number of vision threatening eye diseases.
  4. Use Eye Protection. Protect your eyes when engaging in activities such as sports (especially those that are high impact or involve flying objects), using chemicals or power tools or gardening. Speak to your eye doctor about the best protection for your hobbies to prevent serious eye injuries.
  5. Wear Shades. Protect your eyes from the sun by wearing 100% UV blocking sunglasses and a hat with a brim when you go outside. Never look directly at the sun.
  6. Be Aware: If you notice any changes in your vision, always get it checked out. Tell a parent or teacher if your eyes hurt or if your vision is blurry, jumping, double or if you see spots or anything out of the ordinary. Parents, keep an eye on your child. Children don’t always complain about problems seeing because they don’t know when their vision is not normal vision. Signs of excessive linking, rubbing, unusual head tilt, or excessively close viewing distance are worth a visit to the eye doctor.
  7. Don’t Rub! If you feel something in your eye, don’t rub it – it could make it worse or scratch your eyeball. Ask an adult to help you wash the object out of your eye.
  8. Give Your Eyes a Break. With the digital age, a new concern is kids’ posture when looking at screens such as tablets or mobile phones. Prevent your child from holding these digital devices too close to their eyes. The Harmon distance is a comfortable viewing distance and posture – it is the distance from your chin to your elbow. There is concern that poor postural habits may warp a child’s growing body. Also, when looking at a tv, mobile or computer screen for long periods of time, follow the 20-20-20 rule; take a break every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds, by looking at something 20 feet away.
  9. Create Eye Safe Habits. Always carry pointed objects such as scissors, knives or pencils with the sharp end pointing down. Never shoot objects (including toys) or spray things at others, especially in the direction of the head. Be careful when using sprays that they are pointed away from the eyes.
  10. Keep Them Clean. Always wash your hands before you touch your eyes and follow your eye doctors instructions carefully for proper contact lens hygiene. If you wear makeup, make sure to throw away any old makeup and don’t share with others.

By teaching your children basic eye care and safety habits you are instilling in them the importance of taking care of their precious eye sight. As a parent, always encourage and remind your children to follow these tips and set a good example by doing them yourself.

Of course don’t forget the most important tip of all – get each member of your family’s eyes checked regularly by a qualified eye doctor! Remember, school eye screenings and screenings at a pediatrician’s office are NOT eye exams. They are only checking visual acuity but could miss health problems, focusing issues and binocularity issues that are causing health and vision problems.