Healthy vision is like the old saying, ‘You don’t know what you have until it’s gone’.
Most people feel that good vision is essential and not surprisingly our most important sensory asset.
A study by the American Optometric Association found that 80% of people believe that good vision is important to their overall quality of life. Good vision allows us to navigate smoothly within the environment and maintain independence. Without effective vision, life can become very stressful and require extra help to perform normal daily activities.
But what exactly is ‘healthy vision’? A good place to start may be to describe what healthy vision is NOT, in order to recognize visual warning signs that should never be ignored.
WARNING SIGNS OF VISION PROLEMS
“Good vision is the process of the eyes and brain working together in equal measure. Visual disturbances should never be ignored because they can indicate problems with the eyes, brain, or both” states Dr. S. Rana, ophthalmologist at St Lucie Eye in Port St Lucie, Florida.
He cautions, “any of the following symptoms warrant a call to the eye doctor for further evaluation.”
1. Eye Pain
Common causes of eye pain include eye infection, corneal abrasion, dry eye, or an acute form of glaucoma called angle-closure, considered a visual emergency.
Other less common, but dangerous conditions include uveitis and optic neuritis.
Uveitis is an inflammation within the middle layer of the eye that contains the iris, ciliary body, and choroid. The uvea plays a critical role in the health and function of the eye from the outer scleral tissue to the inner lining of the retina. Any inflammation or damage to the uvea can lead to serious vision problems. Uveitis can be caused by infection, autoimmune disorders, trauma, or exposure to toxins.
Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve that sends signals from the eye to the brain. Optica neuritis can be caused by infection, autoimmune disorders, or certain medications. It is also sometimes associated with multiple sclerosis, a condition that affects the central nervous system.
2. Redness or Swelling
Conjunctivitis (pink eye), allergies, blepharitis, or stye can all cause redness and swelling to the eye and eyelid. If caused by infection, these conditions can also be incredibly itchy and contagious.
Less often, uveitis, scleritis, or orbital cellulitis due to inflammation or infection may be the cause of red, sore eyes that can result in serious vision loss when not treated promptly. Treatment typically involves antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs and may include surgery in some cases.
Timely treatment can preserve vision and keep infection from spreading to other parts of the body.
3. Blurry or Double Vision
Blurred, distorted, or double vision are some of the most common visual complaints across all age groups. There are many causes for blurry symptoms, some are routine and some require medical intervention.
The most common causes of blurry vision; nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia, can be easily remedied with the proper fitting of eyeglasses or contacts.
Other conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or diabetic retinopathy may all share blurry or double vision symptoms but require medical or surgical treatment in order to prevent permanent vision loss.
These conditions are most common after age fifty, except for diabetic eye disease which is the leading cause of blindness for individuals under age sixty.
While blurry and distorted vision are common visual symptoms, an accurate diagnosis of the problem can only be determined with an eye exam.
4. Floaters and Flashes
Floaters, shadows, or flashes can appear as small spots or cobweb-like shapes drifting across your field of vision.
The most common causes are age-related changes within the vitreous, a gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye. As we age, the vitreous becomes more liquid. Clumps of protein and debris cast shadows onto the retina as they move and ‘float’ through the vitreous.
In some cases, floaters and flashes can also be a symptom of ocular migraines, which are characterized by temporary visual disturbances or the presence of visual auras, with or without headache.
Other, more serious causes of floaters can be retinal tears or detachments. This occurs when the light-sensitive retinal tissue at the back of the eye becomes separated from its underlying support fiber. This can cause flashes of bright light, like fireworks, as well as the appearance of floaters. If you experience any of these symptoms or the appearance of a falling curtain in your field of vision, seek immediate help to prevent permanent vision loss.
Macular holes and retinal artery occlusion are other, less common conditions that may cause floaters and flashes and lead to severe vision loss if not treated promptly.
In any of these cases it’s essential to seek appropriate treatment, which may include monitoring, medication, or surgery.
5. Sensitivity to Light
The experience of sudden eye pain when exposed to bright light is also known as photophobia. Symptoms of photophobia are discomfort, pain, uncontrollable blinking and even headaches. Photophobia can be caused by such relatively minor issues as corneal abrasion or eye infection, to more serious conditions such as uveitis, retinal detachment or meningitis.
Sensitivity to light can also be a symptom of migraine, a type of headache that often causes a pulsing or throbbing pain on one side of the head. Migraines can trigger sensitivity to light, sound, and smell.
Seek medical attention from your eye doctor right away if you experience photophobia, especially if the eye appears red, bloodshot or inflamed. Don’t ignore these symptoms, as they can be a sign of a serious underlying condition.
6. Loss of Side or Central Vision
Loss of vision, whether sudden or gradual, always deserves prompt medical attention.
Gradual loss of side or central vision is often associated with chronic eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy. The gradual onset can change suddenly and result in rapid, permanent vision loss if not treated appropriately.
In more acute situations, a loss of side or central vision can be a symptom of retinal detachment, which is an eye emergency. It occurs when the retina, the thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye, separates from the underlying structure.
Similarly, a stroke can cause sudden vision loss, in one eye or both. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted, damaging brain tissue and affecting various functions, including vision.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of vision loss, it’s important to visit an eye doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause. Early detection and treatment can make all the difference in preserving your vision.
7. Headache with Visual Changes
Severe headache with vision changes can be scary. It can signify a medical emergency such as a stroke or be related to other dysfunctions.
Migraines are a common culprit that often begin with visual disturbances such as blind spots or flashes of light. Migraines can also increase sensitivity to light and sound and cause nausea and vomiting. Migraines may be triggered by a variety of factors including stress, hormonal fluctuations, certain foods, or rapid weather changes.
Other types of headaches with visual aura are sinus headaches. These headaches occur when the sinuses become inflamed and cause pain and pressure within the head. Sinus headaches are often accompanied by other symptoms such as congestion, a runny nose, or facial pain.
Headaches with visual changes can also be related to more serious conditions such as temporal arteritis, brain tumor, or stroke. Temporal arteritis is a condition where the blood vessels in the head become inflamed and can cause headaches, vision loss, and other symptoms. Brain tumors can also cause headaches with visual symptoms depending on the location in the brain.
Dr Rana confirms that changes in vision, even relatively subtle ones like blurriness, are problematic because they can represent a host of problems.
“Visual symptoms are common across a wide range of disorders and diseases, some more serious than others. Prompt medical attention is the best way to prevent the development of vision-threatening disease and rule out other signs that may be a medical emergency.”
HOW TO KEEP VISION HEALTHY
Not surprisingly, habits that promote healthy vision are the same as for any other health condition. The best health advice remains, ‘what is healthy for the body is healthy for the eyes.’
Consider these basic habits of good health and good vision.
Achieving a well-balanced diet doesn’t have to be scary or hard. It’s as your mother always said, ‘eat your veggies, they’re good for you’.
All healthcare providers would agree that eating a variety of leafy green vegetables, whole fruits, lean protein, and natural fiber are essential for our bodies to work at maximum efficiency and prevent disease.
Additionally, foods rich in Vitamin A, C, E, and zinc are important for eye health. Examples include carrots, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, citrus fruits, nuts, and fish.
When in doubt about what to eat, spend extra time shopping around the outer periphery of the grocery store. That’s where you’ll find all of the fresh, colorful foods that deliver a powerful, nutritional punch. Select foods that represent all the colors of the rainbow for the best array of nutrients.
Be sure to avoid and limit highly processed foods and refined sugar. The preservatives and added sugars ignite internal cellular inflammation and can damage the delicate blood vessels of the eyes.
Regular exercise is essential to your overall health and helps prevent conditions that affect the eyes, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Regular exercise can also reduce stress and improve sleep, which are both essential elements of good health.
Moderate exercise or activity for at least 30 minutes a day helps improve blood flow and oxygen to the eyes, promoting healthy eye function. Activities such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or even cleaning can keep you moving and active to improve your overall health.
If you can’t get 30 minutes of activity at a time, you can break it up into smaller chunks of 10-15 minutes several times throughout the day, making it easier to achieve your daily exercise goals.
If you’re new to exercise, it’s important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your activity over time. Consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.
3. No Smoking
The best advice for smoking is to never start, or if you do smoke, quit.
Smoking is a highly addictive habit that damages small blood vessels throughout the body and depletes the oxygen needed for healthy tissue repair.
Cigarette smoking remains the number one controllable risk factor for serious health problems such as heart disease, cancer, and vision loss from macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of sixty. Smoking increases the risk of developing macular degeneration up to four times. Smoking can also increase the risk of developing other eye conditions, such as cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.
Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
Your doctor can provide guidance and support and there are many resources available to help you quit. Once you quit smoking, your body can begin to repair the cellular damage caused by smoking. After only a few weeks of not smoking, your risk of developing serious health problems, including vision loss, will decrease.
4. Regular Eye Exams
Regular eye exams are crucial for healthy eyesight and to detect potential eye problems at an early stage. Eye exams typically include a series of tests such as visual acuity, eye muscle function, eye pressure, and inspection of eye structures.
For people who wear glasses or contact lenses, an eye exam every two years is recommended to ensure that your prescription is up-to-date, and your eye health is stable. However, people over 65 should schedule an eye exam every year to monitor for age-related changes and to observe for signs of cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.
Individuals with a family history of eye diseases or other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or a history of eye injuries may need more frequent exams. In such cases, your eye doctor will recommend a more specialized schedule to look for signs of disease or damage to the eyes.
It’s important to note that even if you don’t have any noticeable vision problems, you should still get regular eye exams, as some eye diseases may not show any symptoms until they have progressed to an advanced stage. Early detection and treatment are essential for preserving healthy eyesight and preventing permanent vision loss.
“Many patients are not always aware that most eye disease begins without noticeable symptoms,’ says Dr. Rana. “Because your eye doctor can visualize the interior health of the eye, we can find evidence of disease before it influences vision. It’s an important time to begin treatment and monitor for changes in order to prevent problems further on.”
5. Reduce Stress
Stress is an everyday occurrence that affects people of all ages. Positive stress can help us achieve great things, like the burst of energy needed to win a race. But chronic stress can lead to health problems when it becomes ongoing and unrelenting.
Chronic stress is characterized by the consistent release of hormones cortisol and adrenaline throughout the body. These ‘fight or flight’ hormones induce an inflammatory response that can damage healthy tissues and blood vessels, including those in the eyes.
Effects of inflammatory response in the eyes can result in dry eyes, blurry vision, redness, eye fatigue, and even vision loss.
Chronic inflammation wears down blood vessels, causing reduced blood flow. Reduced blood flow can deprive the eyes of vital oxygen and nutrients, damaging the cells in the retina and optic nerve. Over time, this can accelerate certain eye conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma.
To avoid the negative impact of stress on all aspects of your health, consider adopting daily habits like meditation, deep breathing or yoga. Additionally, prioritizing eight hours of restful sleep is essential to reduce stress and allow the body to repair and regenerate.
During sleep, the body performs many vital functions, including repairing and restoring tissues, regulating hormone levels, and flushing out toxins. Getting 8 hours of restful sleep helps regulate hormone levels and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
One of the primary stress hormones regulated during sleep is cortisol. When cortisol levels remain high for prolonged periods, inflammation occurs throughout the body, causing various health problems. Studies show that when the body gets enough restful sleep, cortisol levels decrease, helping to reduce inflammation and improving health function.
Restful sleep also regulates other hormones that play a role in inflammation, including human growth hormone and melatonin. Growth hormone is essential for repairing tissues and strengthening the immune system. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight inflammation and protects cells from damage.
Poor or reduced sleep can also increase the presence of pro-inflammatory cytokines, proteins the immune system produces in response to infection or injury. When these cytokines remain elevated, they cause chronic inflammation throughout the body.
Adopting healthy sleep habits, such as sticking to a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and electronics before bed, and creating a relaxing sleep environment, can help you reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of developing eye problems.
7. Limit Screen Time
“As technology advances, it’s difficult to escape using our eyes more frequently and for longer periods of time,” says Dr. Rana. “It’s important to control how often we look at screens to prevent eye strain.”
Screen time is a fact of life in our digital world. More and more, we spend a significant amount of time staring at screens, whether it’s for work or entertainment. The average American spends over 11 hours a day looking at screens.
While this may seem harmless, excessive screen time can be bad for your vision.
Digital eye strain can cause a host of symptoms like dry eye, headache, and blurred vision due to poor lighting, glare, excessive exposure to blue UV light and blinking less often.
Staring at digital screens reduces normal blinking time by up to a third. Normal blinking of 15-20 times per minute continuously nourishes the outer layer of the eye with tears. This helps keep eye tissues moist and flush irritants. When looking at a screen, the tendency is to blink less often because you are not aware of the need to blink. This can lead to dry eye and strain.
Regular vision breaks can help alleviate digital eye strain. An easy rule to remember is the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a break and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This practice helps reduce eye strain and allows the eyes to relax, preventing long-term damage.
In addition to following the 20-20-20 rule, other suggestions to reduce digital strain include: reduce the brightness and contrast of your digital screen, use artificial tears when eyes feel dry, and use blue light filters to protect against harmful UV rays.
8. UV/Sunlight Protection
The wavelength of UV light is invisible to the naked eye but can cause numerous problems, including cataracts, macular degeneration, skin cancer around the eyelids or within the eye.
UV radiation is a type of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun and electronic devices. Some exposure helps regulate human hormones such as melatonin and growth hormone. UV effects become damaging when the rays penetrate through the skin and eyes to disrupt normal cell function. The problem stems from not knowing when damage occurs because the rays are invisible.
There are three types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA rays are the most common and can penetrate deep into the eye and skin disrupting normal DNA. UVB rays are powerful burning rays and can burn the corneal surface of the eye. UVC rays are the most powerful type of UV radiation but are mostly blocked by the Earth’s ozone layer.
Wearing sunglasses with UV protection and avoiding sun exposure during peak hours can help reduce the risk of eye damage.
Other tips to protect yourself from UV radiation include:
- Look for sunglasses that are labeled UV400 or 100% UV protection which means they block all UVA/UVB rays.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your eyes.
- Avoid being in the sun during the peak sun hours of 10am to 4pm.
- Wear UVA/UVB blocking sunscreen that is safe for skin around the eyes.
May is Healthy Vision Month, but good eye care is year-round.
“When you take care of your eyes, they will take care of you,” concludes Dr. Rana. “We all want to enjoy good vision throughout our lives and the doctors and staff of St Lucie Eye will be here to help you achieve those goals.”
Have a vision concern? Call our offices today for an evaluation. (772) 461-2020