What is Dry January?
Like most people after the holidays, you may feel the need for a reset after months of festive partying.
If so, you’re not alone. Millions of people commit to Dry January, or Drynuary each year to improve their health and establish better drinking habits after a season of over-imbibing.
Begun in 2013 by the UK charity Alcohol Concern, Dry January has also gained support from healthcare professionals to raise awareness about the potential negative effects of alcohol on health and well-being.
That includes eye health and vision, essential components of mobility and independence.
How important is vision to general health?
How would we function without healthy vision?
Vision is one of the five senses and plays a vital role in how we interact with and perceive the world around us. Good vision is necessary for activities such as driving, reading, participating in sports, and other physical activities. It is also important for social interactions and communication.
Poor vision can have a significant impact on your quality of life and can lead to problems with daily activities, independence, and employment. It can also increase the risk of accidents and injuries.
While there are many factors that can contribute to vision problems, especially for seniors, alcohol consumption is one that is often overlooked. Drinking alcohol over time can have a major impact on overall health, including eyes and vision.
Your Eyes on Alcohol
How does moderate drinking affect eye health?
Alcohol and eyesight are connected. Even light consumption of alcohol can impair the eyes and affect vision in unsuspecting ways, not including making others look more attractive with beer goggles on!
Short-term effects of alcohol can begin on the visual system without you being aware of them.
- Dehydration First, alcohol functions as a diuretic rapidly removing water from the body. In the short term, this can have a dehydrating effect, leaving the eyes dry, irritated, and bloodshot.
- Central Nervous System Depressant More importantly, alcohol has a fast-acting depressive effect on neural pathway pathways to the brain. This can cause blurry vision and impaired judgment and is especially dangerous when driving a car or performing tasks that require visual acuity and coordination.
- Involuntary Eye Movement Messages between the brain and the eyes may not be sent or received correctly after drinking alcohol. This can cause involuntary eye movement or a jerking motion to the eyes.
- Decreased Sensitivity to Contrasting Colors Determining light versus dark shades becomes more difficult when under the influence of alcohol. This could make nighttime driving especially difficult.
- Slower Pupil Dilation Drinking alcohol slows the response of pupil dilation. This slowed reaction can cause tunnel vision and an inability for the eyes to adjust to changes in light (such as oncoming headlights).
What are the Long-term Effects of Drinking Alcohol on Eye Health?
While short-term damage to the eyes from drinking may be irritating, most conditions are short-lived if alcohol consumption is stopped or reduced.
Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to serious eye problems that go well beyond temporary discomfort and impaired vision.
- Dry eye syndrome: The dehydrating effects of alcohol can lead to chronic dryness of the external surface of the eye, causing redness, irritation, and discomfort. Untreated dry eye often leads to more serious problems, such as scarring of the cornea and blurry vision.
- Cataracts: Cataracts occur when proteins within the lens of the eye become denatured and cloudy, leading to vision loss. Cataracts are considered a natural part of aging, but research shows that heavy consumption of alcohol speeds cataract development.
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve at the back of the eye and lead to permanent vision loss. Studies show that alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing glaucoma, particularly in people genetically predisposed to the disease.
- Macular degeneration: Macular degeneration is a condition that damages the central part of the retina. Symptoms of AMD include faded colors, blurry vision, and deteriorating central vision. It is thought that vitamin deficiencies associated with long-term alcohol consumption may trigger the disease. Early detection and treatment are vital to prevent permanent vision loss.
Steps to Commit to Healthy Vision in the New Year.
One simple and effective step towards better health and vision is to limit alcohol consumption. Why not start with Dry January?
Or, if you’re not ready to fully eliminate alcohol for a month, consider only drinking for special occasions, dinners, and celebrations.
But why stop with just limiting alcohol consumption? There are many other steps that you can take to protect your eyes all through the year:
- Wear sunglasses: Sunglasses can protect the eyes from harmful UV rays, which can contribute to cataracts and other eye problems.
- Schedule regular eye exams: Regular eye exams can help identify any potential problems early on, allowing for prompt treatment.
- Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other nutrients can help support overall eye health.
- Stay hydrated: Dehydration can lead to dry eyes, so it’s important to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Move your body: Regular movement and exercise helps to stimulate blood flow, benefiting vision. Also be sure to spend time in nature to give your eyes a break from computer screens, TVs, and other electronic devices.
By following these simple steps, you can protect your eyes and vision for a lifetime.
And when you’re tempted to have an extra drink, remember the potential negative impact it could have on your eyes and overall eye health. Your vision is too important to risk.
Do You Need Help to Stop Drinking?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
If you’re experiencing health-related problems from drinking alcohol and are having a hard time cutting back, help is available. Quitting alcohol can be incredibly difficult and sometimes dangerous when attempted alone.
Please contact the National Referral Hotline 1-800-662-HELP if you don’t know where to turn.
The hotline is a free, confidential, 24-7 information service for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Please don’t delay. There is always someone ready to help.
St Lucie Eye is here for your lifelong eye care.
Established in the 1950’s by community leader, Dr. Henry Edward Branca, MD, St Lucie Eye has grown alongside the burgeoning county over the years.
Now with three locations, St Lucie Eye offers a wide range of specialized medical and surgical care that includes comprehesive eye exams, cataract evaluations, glaucoma management, macular degeneration treatment, glasses, contacts and much more. We look forward to seeing you through a lifetime of better vision.
Contact St Lucie Eye for more information.