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Parkinson’s Awareness Month and Your Vision

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month in the USA and Canada, a time when those living with the disorder, their family members, friends, and community come together to raise awareness and share helpful information. People with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and their loved ones are encouraged to share their stories, struggles, and successes in order to educate and support others.

The Parkinson’s Foundation has announced this year’s theme: #KeyToPD and Parkinson Canada advocates the same involvement. What is the key to living a high quality of life while living with Parkinson’s? Patients, doctors, caregivers, and families are encouraged to use this hashtag on social media to give of their knowledge and experience.

In order to successfully manage the disorder, it’s essential to understand the disease, symptoms, and treatments. After all, knowledge is power.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to control physical movement. It typically affects middle aged people and the elderly. Parkinson’s causes a decrease in the brain’s natural levels of dopamine, which normally aids nerve cells in passing messages within the brain. According to The Parkinson’s Foundation and Statistics Canada, the disorder affects an estimated 1 million people in the United States, 55 000 Canadians, and 10 million globally.

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

Although much research has been done on the subject, the exact cause of the disease isn’t really known. What doctors and scientists do know is that certain nerve cells located in the brain somehow break down. This damage interferes with both motor and non-motor functions.

How Does Parkinson’s Affect Vision?

Parkinson’s can have a significant impact on vision and ocular health. Patients with PD often find themselves unable to control blinking. Blinking is good for the eyes as it moisturizes the surface and clears it from foreign substances. Less blinking can cause Dry Eye Syndrome, resulting in itchy, red, or gritty-feeling eyes. Other people blink too much or can’t keep their eyes open. 

In more serious cases, Parkinson’s affects the nerves that help us see. Someone with PD may experience blurry vision, double vision, difficulty seeing color and contrast, problems with focus, and other visual symptoms. 

In addition to the inherent impact of the disease, some of the medications used to treat Parkinson’s symptoms have known side effects including dry eyes, blurred eyesight and even hallucinations in advanced PD.

Common Visual Symptoms of Parkinson’s

Although the most recognized physical symptom is uncontrollable tremors, patients can experience other symptoms that affect their vision. These typically include:

  • Apraxia (inability to open the eyelids) 
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Dry eyes
  • Eye twitching
  • Focusing problems

Parkinson’s Patients and Eye Exams

Eye exams can be particularly challenging for a PD patient, so choosing the right doctor is essential. Make sure your eye doctor regularly treats patients with PD. They’ll understand your or your loved ones’ unique needs and will take the time needed.

Common Non-Visual Symptoms of Parkinson’s

PD affects other areas of the body that may or may not – depending on each patient – be related to their eye health and visual needs. 

Some of the most common non-visual symptoms are:

  • Depression
  • Excessive saliva
  • Loss of smell
  • Moodiness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Slow movement (bradykinesia)
  • Stiff limbs
  • Tremors

Coping With Vision Problems From Parkinson’s

Despite the struggles caused by this degenerative disease, there is hope. Talk to your eye doctor. He or she may recommend medicated ointments or drops, injections, therapeutic lenses, visual aids, vision therapy, or a combination thereof. Additionally, a Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation doctor can provide comprehensive eye care specifically designed for neurological disorders like PD.

Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

There is currently no cure for the disease itself, but there are options to treat the symptoms of PD. A combination of medications, physical and/or occupational therapy, support groups, and of course, top-quality vision care can give a PD patient relief for some of their symptoms and tools to help cope with the condition.

Research and clinical trials are continuing as doctors and others in the medical community work towards the goal of finding a cure for PD.

No two patients are alike, and each can experience PD differently from the other, so finding what works for you or your loved one is key. During this Parkinson’s Awareness Month, share your #KeyToPD and give your loved ones hope for a healthy and high quality of life.

Women’s Health and Your Vision

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day when women are honored and their accomplishments celebrated worldwide. From medicine to law, entrepreneurship to corporate leadership, education to the military, women are achieving great strides in areas of business like never before.

In addition to professional achievements, International Women’s Day is a time for women to focus inwards on their personal goals, relationships, and health. From the adolescent years to pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause, women’s bodies go through some major changes that can affect many areas of their health, especially their vision.

Age Is Just a Number, But Not For Your Vision

They say that ‘age is just a number’, but when it comes to women’s health, it’s essential to pay close attention to any signs of changing vision as we get older.

Women over 40 have a higher risk of developing eye disease, impaired vision, and blindness than men. They are more likely to develop eye conditions such as Cataracts, Diabetic Retinopathy, and Dry Eye Syndrome. In fact, 61% of Glaucoma patients and 65% of Age-Related Macular Degeneration patients are female, so it’s crucial that women know the risk factors and signs of developing these conditions.

Put Your Needs First

Women are typically the family caretakers, running a spouse, children, or elderly parents to the doctor, putting their own healthcare needs last. It’s time to put your eye care needs first. Don’t ignore symptoms or push them off for another day. Take care of yourself, and you’ll be able to continue being there for others.

Signs and Risk Factors of Vision Problems

Knowing what to look out for is a crucial step in keeping your eyes healthy and enjoying great vision.

Genetics often play a key role in many health issues. Just like people inherit eye color and shape, hair color and texture, and facial features from parents, vision difficulties or diseases can also be hereditary. If something runs in the family, you may be more susceptible to developing it and passing it on to your children, as well.

Pregnancy can temporarily affect a woman’s vision. This is due to the hormonal changes in the body, which typically stabilize after breastfeeding has stopped. A pregnant woman with diabetes must be closely monitored, since diabetic retinopathy (swelling or leaking of blood vessels in the retina) can progress more quickly during the pregnancy.

Climate and environment are also important factors when it comes to eye health. Extremely cold or hot climates can cause dry eye symptoms. A healthy amount of sun exposure is good for the skin, but an excessive amount can harm your eyes and even lead to vision loss. Smoking dehydrates the skin and can lead to eye bags and dark circles, not to mention a whole slew of serious eye diseases like cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic eye disease. 

Symptoms of Declining Vision and Eye Conditions

Some of the most common signs of declining vision or eye disease include:

  • Blind spots
  • Blurry or distorted vision
  • Burning sensation
  • Gritty feeling
  • Itchy eyes
  • Redness
  • Shadows or dark spots on an image
  • Stinging
  • Swelling or soreness in the eye
  • Watery eyes

If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, or if you feel like something just isn’t right with your eyes, speak with your eye doctor right away. Mention any other conditions or medications you may be taking, including birth control pills (a known contributor to Dry Eye Syndrome), and even natural supplements or vitamins. Other factors such as an irregular menstrual cycle, fertility treatments, or cosmetic procedures may impact your vision in ways you may be unaware of, so disclosing this to your doctor is important.

What Can You Do to Improve Your Eye Health?

There are some preventative measures that women can take to ensure their eye health and overall vision are at their best.

  1. Keep that body hydrated! Mothers always say it, doctors remind us too, and they’re right. Drinking 8 glasses of water daily is great for your skin and can prevent dry eye symptoms from forming.
  2. Quit smoking. Not only is it bad for your lungs, but it can cause eye problems, like dryness, itchiness, and swelling, as well as more serious eye diseases associated with vision loss.
  3. Love the outdoors? Wear UV-blocking sunglasses when you’re at the beach or even hanging out in your backyard, to protect against harmful sun rays. Polarized lenses are a great way to shield your eyes from strong glare.
  4. Eat healthy. A balanced diet including a variety of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables may help protect you from several eye conditions including dry eyes, macular degeneration, and even diabetic retinopathy.
  5. Try to get more shut-eye. A healthy amount of sleep ensures your eyes are rested and clear the next day.

On this International Women’s Day, let’s work together to keep the women in our lives healthy for many years to come.

What’s in Your Household Cleaning Supplies?

Most of us have the basics: bleach, oven cleaner, air freshener, furniture polish, and window spray. Did you know that chemicals found in these kinds of cleaning products can be toxic and harmful to your health? In small amounts, they generally don’t cause much damage. But when used on a regular basis or in a poorly ventilated area, the level of toxicity rises.

If you’ve ever gotten a headache or developed watery eyes after scrubbing down your kitchen counters, you may have a sensitivity to the chemicals in your household products.

That Burns

Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, are gases that are released into the atmosphere, usually from burning fuel sources like wood or gasoline. They can also be found in many household products such as degreasers, aerosol sprays, and disinfectants. These gases are released not only during use, but also when kept in storage or transported between locations.

VOCs are generally less harmful when released outdoors, as the gases are absorbed into the atmosphere. However, in an indoor environment, the gases have 10 times the concentration!

People may come into contact with these compounds by breathing them in or through direct contact with their skin, which can lead to any of the following symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Respiratory problems
  • Nausea
  • Impaired coordination (ie. difficulty walking straight, buttoning a shirt, or holding a pen)
  • Eye problems (ie. itching, burning, redness, or soreness in the eyes)

Other Chemical Irritants

Chemicals like sodium hydroxide can be found in oven and drain cleaners. Air fresheners and leather cleaners may contain formaldehyde, which in high amounts, has been linked to certain types of cancer. Even laundry detergents and stain removers can contain irritants.

If you’ve been exposed to these types of chemicals, you may experience trouble breathing, irritation in the eyes, nose or throat, or develop a skin rash. So, use extra caution when handling these kinds of cleaning supplies.

If your job exposes you to higher levels of chemicals from cleaning products, such as janitorial staff or sanitation workers, artificial tears and protective eyewear can help. Use them daily to give you relief from chemical agents that irritate the eyes. Ask your optometrist about which types are best for you.

Immediate Eye Care

Should your eyes come into contact with chemical substances or VOCs, immediately irrigate your eyes with plenty of cold water. Tilt your head so that the exposed eye is down, to avoid flushing the chemical into the good eye, and avoid rubbing your eyes. Rinse your eyes for 15 minutes – this will flush acidic or alkaline chemicals out of the affected areas. This should be your first line of defense, even before calling a doctor. 

If you have saline solution or contact lens solution readily on hand (non-peroxide only), administer several drops of solution to the affected eyes. Contact your eye doctor or, if need be, visit an emergency room. Chemical burns can cause serious damage to the cornea, so schedule a checkup with your eye doctor as soon as possible.

5 Ways to Lower Your Risk of Chemical Exposure

Despite the potential harm to your health, there are some things you can do to minimize over exposure to these dangerous chemicals.

1. Wash Your Hands

Our mothers always said it, and with good reason. The #1 way to lower your risk of health issues from chemicals is to wash your hands after handling cleaning products. Use warm water and soap and be sure to wash the hands thoroughly, even if you used gloves. Consider washing to your upper arms in case of a splash or splatter, such as from paint or aerosol sprays. 

2. Don’t Rub Your Eyes

Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes until your hands have been completely washed and are clear of any lingering chemical substances. Even a little foreign substance in the eye can be incredibly painful. If you’ve ever had an eyelash stuck in your eye, you know what we mean. So just imagine how severe the pain could be if you accidentally touched your eye after contact with bleach or glass cleaner.

3. Go Outside

Get some fresh air. If you feel dizzy or nauseous, if your eyes burn or you have trouble breathing after using cleaning supplies, go outside. A short walk in the fresh air can quickly open the nasal passages and clear your eyes from strong chemical vapors.

4. Open Some Windows

Make sure there is plenty of ventilation when cleaning or using any chemicals like paint. Open windows or turn some fans on to circulate the air more effectively.

5. Read Labels

Read labels and warnings so you know what’s in the cleaners you’re buying and how to use them safely. Consider trying out some natural cleaning supplies that don’t contain VOCs.

About “Green” Cleaning Products

In recent years, so-called “green” products have made their way onto store shelves, but just how green are they, and are they safer than standard ones?

While baking soda and vinegar have long been touted and praised for their cleaning abilities, there is a seeming plethora of new natural disinfectants and general cleaners on the market.

Buzzwords to Look out For

There are some buzzwords you can look out for, which are clues that certain products may not be as natural or as safe as you think. Consumer product manufacturers aren’t required by law to disclose the ingredients in artificial fragrances, so labels may simply list “fragrance” on their ingredient list. Items labeled “natural” are also vague; they don’t have to be specified, and not all natural items are necessarily safe. However, if something is listed as “flammable”, that’s a pretty sure sign of a chemical ingredient.

Chemicals & You

Simply being aware of your body’s reaction to the everyday cleaning supplies in your home is the first step. Use these items safely and with caution. For any severe eye pain – especially if you notice any vision changes – talk to your eye doctor right away.

School and Vision: 2 Important Partners

It’s February and that means we’re smack in the middle of winter, which is also the middle of the school year. It’s the season when kids fervently hope for snow days and parents hope they don’t happen. As we head towards the second half of the school year, you’ve probably attended a few parent-teacher conferences and discussed your child’s education.

Like peanut butter and jelly, school and vision go hand-in-hand. Both are important partners in ensuring that children excel in their learning, extracurricular activities, and relationships with their peers.

ADD/ADHD and Vision Problems

Did you know that certain vision problems can mask themselves as behavioral or learning difficulties? In fact, education experts often say that 80% of learning is visual.

A 3rd grader may be misdiagnosed with ADD or ADHD if they display behaviors like being fidgety, having difficulty focusing or concentrating, or having a short attention span. These symptoms may not always be purely behavioral; they could be vision-related. A child who experiences blurry vision, suffers from headaches or eyestrain, or itches their eyes excessively may, in fact, have a refractive error such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) or astigmatism, or another condition such as convergence insufficiency.

Undiagnosed myopia, for example can cause these same types of behaviors that are commonly attributed to attention disorders. That’s because if your child has to squint his eyes to see the board clearly, eyestrain and headaches are bound to follow. Struggling with reading or writing is common too. Other vision disorders can cause similar behavior patterns. An additional challenge is that kids don’t always express their symptoms verbally, and often they don’t even realize that other people see differently than do.

This can also impact kids emotionally. When they feel like they’re not keeping up with their peers or their learning is inferior in some way, this may lead the child to act out verbally or even physically. 

Distinguishing between colors is an important skill for early childhood development. While color vision deficiency affects both children and adults, kids, in particular, can experience difficulty in school with this condition. Simply reading a chalkboard can be an intense struggle when white or yellow chalk is used. When a teacher uses colored markers on a whiteboard to draw a pie chart, graph, or play a game, this can be a difficult experience for a young student with color blindness. A child, his or her parents, and teachers may even be unaware that the child is color blind.

What School Vision Screenings Miss

Many parents believe that an in-school vision screening is good enough. However, an eye chart test only checks for basic visual acuity, so kids with blurry or double vision, for example, may be able to pass a vision screening while still struggling to read, write, or focus on the board. Children who have problems with their binocular vision, which means using both eyes together to focus on something, can pass the screening when they use just one eye to read the chart.

Studies show that a whopping 43% of children who have vision problems can successfully pass a school vision screening. This means that the vision test may fail to detect the more subtle but significant and treatable vision problems. Early detection and diagnosis is critical to maintaining healthy eyes. That’s why it’s so important to make eye care a part of your child’s healthcare routine.

The Importance of Yearly Eye Exams

The #1 way to do this is to schedule annual eye exams. Your eye doctor can perform a comprehensive pediatric eye exam to check visual acuity, visual clarity, binocular vision, and screen for any eye diseases or vision problems. 

Because children develop so rapidly at different ages, it’s essential that eye exams are done at specific stages of their young lives. In fact, The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends regular eye exams at age 6 months, 3 years, before school starts, and every 2 years thereafter.

Simply being aware of the tendency to associate a child’s learning issues with a learning disability or attention disorder instead of an underlying vision problem is critical for parents and educators. Both are partners in a child’s education and they must work together to ensure that each child gets the health care and attention he or she needs. 

If you notice changes in your child’s schoolwork, behavior with friends or in sports or other after-school activities, it may be time to schedule an eye exam. You’ll want to be sure that your kids have all the tools they need to succeed in school and beyond.

What You Need to Know About Glaucoma – The Sneak Thief of Sight

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma, a silent eye disease, is the most common form of irreversible blindness in the world. It is actually a group of diseases that causes progressive damage to the optic nerve. 

  • Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease that can lead to permanent vision loss if not controlled. 
  • There is currently no cure for glaucoma, but there are many treatments available for stopping and slowing the progressive damage to the eye. Treatment, however, can’t reverse damage that is already done.
  • Glaucoma affects the optic nerve which sends visual information from your eye to your brain. 
  • Glaucoma is called the “Thief Sneak of Sight” because there are often no symptoms in the early stages such as pain or “pressure sensation” as one may expect, and by the time it is diagnosed there may already be permanent vision loss.
  • When vision loss occurs, peripheral vision is typically affected before central vision. As a result, glaucoma is a major public health issue because individuals usually do not notice any problem with vision until end stages of the disease when there is severe and irreversible vision loss.
  • Awareness and regular eye exams are key to early detection and preventing vision loss. 

What Causes Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is caused by a buildup of natural fluid that doesn’t drain properly from the eye. The buildup of fluid can result in high pressure in the eye which is the most common cause of the condition. There are many types of glaucoma, which include:

Chronic (open angle) glaucoma occurs when pressure builds up over time, usually as a result of aging. This is the most common type of glaucoma. 

Acute (angle closure) glaucoma is an acute condition where pressure builds up suddenly and demands immediate medical attention. Symptoms include blurred vision, eye pain, headaches, seeing halos around lights, nausea and vomiting. 

Secondary glaucoma results from another eye disease, condition or a trauma to the eye. 

Normal tension glaucoma is when there is no build up of pressure but the optic nerve is still damaged. We are still not yet sure what causes this type of glaucoma. 

Who is at Risk for Glaucoma?

Everyone is at risk of glaucoma however there are certain factors which increase the likelihood of developing the condition. Vision loss from glaucoma can be greatly reduced when detected and treated early which is why knowing your risk factors can play a tremendous role in prevention. 

Age

Age is one of the biggest risk factors, as your chances of developing glaucoma increase significantly after the age of 40. In fact people over 60 years old are six times more likely to get the condition. 

Ancestry and Family History

Individuals from African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American or Aboriginal Canadian descent are at increased risk. Family history is a very strong factor as the condition occurs twice as much in people with close relatives who have had glaucoma. 

Previous Eye Injury, Traumas or Surgery

Eye injuries, traumas or surgeries have been known to sometimes cause secondary glaucoma which can happen immediately after the injury or procedure, or even years later. Even childhood injuries can result in secondary glaucoma later in life. 

Use of Steroids

Studies show that prolonged steroid use is linked to increased elevated intraocular pressure which increases the risk of open-angle glaucoma. 

 

Certain medical and eye conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and high myopia (nearsightedness) also increase a person’s risk of developing glaucoma. 

Glaucoma Treatment

While there is no cure for glaucoma, there are treatments to slow down the progression of the disease including eye drop medications, iridotomies, iridectomies, laser procedures and surgeries. 

Glaucoma Prevention

Other than taking care of any underlying conditions that may increase the risk of developing glaucoma, there is little one can do in the way of prevention. You can however reduce your chances of suffering vision loss. The first step is knowing the risk factors and signs of the condition (even though as mentioned most cases have no symptoms in the early stages, until vision is already lost). 

The best possible way to prevent vision loss is to have regular comprehensive eye exams to check the health of your eyes and if your eye doctors prescribes medication for glaucoma, make sure to diligently take them as directed. Your eye doctor will be able to conduct certain tests to detect eye diseases such as glaucoma before you even begin to notice symptoms. If you have any of the risk factors above, mention it to your eye doctor, and always be sure to schedule a yearly eye exam, or as often as your eye doctor recommends, to check the health of your eyes and rule out any underlying or developing eye conditions like glaucoma. 

8 Tips to Relieve Winter Dry Eyes

Whether you live in a climate with cold winter weather or you are planning a ski trip up north, winter can be a challenge if you suffer from dry eyes. Dry, cool air, cold winds and even drier indoor heating can cause eye irritation, burning, itchiness and redness, and sometimes even excessively watery eyes as more tears are produced to compensate for the dryness. Many people have a chronic feeling that they have something in their eye and some even experience blurred vision. These symptoms can be debilitating!

Dry eyes is one of the most common complaints eye doctors get from patients during the winter season, especially in the cooler climates. That’s why we’d like to share some tips on how to relieve dry eye discomfort, and how to know when your condition is serious enough to come in for an evaluation.

Tips to Relieve Winter Dry Eyes:

  1. Keep eyes moist using artificial tears or eye drops. You can apply these a few times each day when the eyes are feeling dry or irritated. If over-the-counter drops don’t help or if you have chronic dry eyes, speak to your eye doctor about finding the best drops for you. Since not all artificial tears are the same, knowing the cause of your dry eye will help your eye doctor determine which brand is best suited for your eyes.
  2. Use a humidifier to counteract the drying effects of indoor heaters or generally dry air.
  3. Point car vents or indoor heaters away from your face when the heat is on. Try to keep your distance from direct sources of heating, especially if they blow out the heat.
  4. Drink a lot! Hydrating your body will also hydrate your eyes.
  5. Protect your eyes outdoors with sunglasses or goggles – the bigger the better! Larger, even wrap-around glasses as well as a hat with a wide brim will keep the wind and other elements out of your eyes. If you wear goggles for winter sports, make sure they fit well and cover a large surface area.
  6. Soothe dry eyes using a warm compress and never rub them! Rubbing your eyes will increase irritation and may lead to infection if the hands are not clean.
  7. Give your eyes a digital break. People blink less during screen time which is why extensive computer use can lead to dry eyes. Follow the 20/20/20 rule by taking a break every 20 minutes to look 20 feet away for 20 seconds and make sure you blink!
  8. For contact lens wearers: If you wear contact lenses, dry eyes can be particularly debilitating as the contact lenses can cause even further dryness and irritation. Contact lens rewetting drops can help your eyes feel better and may also allow you to see more clearly. Not all eyedrops are appropriate for use with contact lenses, so ask your optometrist which eyedrop is compatible with your contacts and cleaning solution. If rewetting drops don’t help, consider opting for glasses when your dry eyes are bad, and speak to your optometrist about which brands of contact lenses are better for dry eyes. Many people find dry eye improvement when they switch to daily single use contact lenses.

Chronic Dry Eyes or Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is a chronic condition in which the eyes do not produce enough tear film, or do not produce the quality of tear film needed to properly keep the eyes moist. While winter weather can make this condition worse, it is often present all year round. If you find that the tips above do not alleviate your discomfort or symptoms, it may be time to see a optometrist to see if your condition requires more effective medical treatment. 

Diabetes and Your Eyes

Diabetes is becoming much more prevalent around the globe. According to the International Diabetes Federation, approximately 425 million adults were living with diabetes in the year 2017 and 352 million more people were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. By 2045 the number of people diagnosed is expected to rise to 629 million. 

Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness as well as heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, neuropathy (nerve damage) and lower limb amputation. In fact, in 2017, diabetes was implicated in 4 million deaths worldwide. Nevertheless preventing these complications from diabetes is possible with proper treatment, medication and regular medical screenings as well as improving your diet, physical activity and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the hormone insulin is either underproduced or ineffective in its ability to regulate blood sugar. Uncontrolled diabetes leads to hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, which damages many systems in the body such as the blood vessels and the nervous system.  

How Does Diabetes Affect The Eyes?

Diabetic eye disease is a group of conditions which are caused, or worsened, by diabetes; including: diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, glaucoma and cataracts. Diabetes increases the risk of cataracts by four times, and can increase dryness and reduce cornea sensation.

In diabetic retinopathy, over time, the tiny blood vessels within the eyes become damaged, causing leakage, poor oxygen circulation, then scarring of the sensitive tissue within the retina, which can result in further cell damage and scarring. 

The longer you have diabetes, and the longer your blood sugar levels remain uncontrolled, the higher the chances of developing diabetic eye disease. Unlike many other vision-threatening conditions which are more prevalent in older individuals, diabetic eye disease is one of the main causes of vision loss in the younger, working-age population. Unfortunately, these eye conditions can lead to blindness if not caught early and treated. In fact, 2.6% of blindness worldwide is due to diabetes. 

Diabetic Retinopathy

As mentioned above, diabetes can result in cumulative damage to the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of the eye. This is called diabetic retinopathy. 

The retina is responsible for converting the light it receives into visual signals to the optic nerve in the brain. High blood sugar levels can cause the blood vessels in the retina to leak or hemorrhage, causing bleeding and distorting vision. In advanced stages, new blood vessels may begin to grow on the retinal surface causing scarring and further damaging cells in the retina. Diabetic retinopathy can eventually lead to blindness. 

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

The early stages of diabetic retinopathy often have no symptoms, which is why it’s vitally important to have frequent diabetic eye exams. As it progresses you may start to notice the following symptoms:

  • Blurred or fluctuating vision or vision loss
  • Floaters (dark spots or strings that appear to float in your visual field)
  • Blind spots
  • Color vision loss

There is no pain associated with diabetic retinopathy to signal any issues. If not controlled, as retinopathy continues it can cause retinal detachment and macular edema, two other serious conditions that threaten vision. Again, there are often NO signs or symptoms until more advanced stages. 

A person with diabetes can do their part to control their blood sugar level. Following the physician’s medication plan, as well as diet and exercise recommendations can help slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy. 

Retinal Detachment

Scar tissues caused by the breaking and forming of blood vessels in advanced retinopathy can lead to a retinal detachment in which the retina pulls away from the underlying tissue. This condition is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately as it can lead to permanent vision loss. Signs of a retinal detachment include a sudden onset of floaters or flashes in the vision. 

Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)

Diabetic macular edema occurs when the macula, a part of the retina responsible for clear central vision, becomes full of fluid (edema). It is a complication of diabetic retinopathy that occurs in about half of patients, and causes vision loss. 

Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema

While vision loss from diabetic retinopathy and DME often can’t be restored, with early detection there are some preventative treatments available. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (when the blood vessels begin to grow abnormally) can be treated by laser surgery, injections or a procedure called vitrectomy in which the vitreous gel in the center of the eye is removed and replaced. This will treat bleeding caused by ruptured blood vessels. DME can be treated with injection therapy, laser surgery or corticosteroids. 

Prevent Vision Loss from Diabetes

The best way to prevent vision loss from diabetic eye disease is early detection and treatment. Since there may be no symptoms in the early stages, regular diabetic eye exams are critical for early diagnosis. In fact diabetics are now sometimes monitored by their health insurance to see if they are getting regular eye exams and premium rates can be affected by how regularly the patients get their eyes checked. Keeping diabetes under control through exercise, diet, medication and regular screenings will help to reduce the chances of vision loss and blindness from diabetes. 

 

Have an Eye Safe Halloween

Brush Up Before You Dress Up

Halloween is one of the most fun times of the year for children and adults alike. When else do you get to dress up as anyone (or anything) you want, socialize with friends and eat lots of treats? Nevertheless, lurking behind those costumes and all that fun are some hidden dangers that you need to be aware of and many of them could affect your eyes and vision. Brush up on these preventative measures to help you and your children to stay safe and enjoy the holiday. 

Masks

Masks can really make or break a costume but they can also increase danger, especially for children. Masks that block visibility or the ability to breathe can be extremely dangerous. You want to make sure that you and your children have a complete, unobstructed visual field, especially if they will be crossing streets. 

Facepaint

Facepaint can be a great alternative to a mask, but it comes with its own set of precautions. Buy face paint that is hypoallergenic and do a spot test to make sure there is no allergic reaction anyway. Make sure to keep the paint out of the eyes and be careful during application especially with sharp, pointed brushes that can scratch the eye. If face paint or any other substances get into the eyes, immediately flush the eyes thoroughly with saline or water as chemical splashes can cause significant eye damage within minutes. This should be done before consulting your eye doctor. If irritation persists however, it should be looked at by an eye doctor. 

Props

Try to avoid costumes with sharp or pointed props such as spears, swords or guns that shoot. Warn children at play to never point an object at a person’s head or eyes. 

That goes for spray cans of silly-string, as well. The chemicals in these products can be very dangerous to the eyes, risking chemical conjunctivitis and serious eye irritation. The pressure at which the string is sprayed can also cause eye damage including a corneal abrasion (a scratch to the surface of the eye) if sprayed into the eye at a close range. These popular Halloween products should be avoided or, if necessary, children should be seriously cautioned not to spray anyone near the neck or face. 

Visibility

Speaking of sight, you want to make sure that you and your children are visible to motorists on the streets. Chose brightly colored costumes and carry a flashlight to increase visibility. Consider adding some reflective tape to the costume or props as well.

Decorative Contact Lenses

Decorative contact lenses can look great, but they can cause serious damage. That’s why even non-corrective contact lenses are considered a medical device, which must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration or Health Canada, and require a prescription from an eye doctor. 

Never buy fashion, decorative, cosmetic, colored or theater contact lenses (or any other name that they go by) from a beauty or costume supply store or any unauthorized vendor. You should purchase them only with a prescription from an eye doctor after an eye exam to measure your eye and assess your eye health. 

Why?

Contacts obtained through an unauthorized source may not be safe to wear. They might cause a corneal abrasion, allergic reactions, infections and decreased vision which can even lead to blindness.  

Plus, your optician or eye doctor will give you instructions for proper use and hygiene such as washing your hands, storing and cleaning the lenses properly and removing them as prescribed.  

If you are wearing any type of contact lenses and you notice redness, pain or blurred vision, take them out immediately. If symptoms persist, see your eye doctor as soon as possible. 

Stay Safe

Don’t make Halloween into a truly scary holiday. Take heed of these potential dangers and take the necessary precautions to stay safe. Happy Halloween!

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. 

 

Is Too Much Screen Time Dangerous For Your Kids?

Screen Time Pros and Cons

Whether it is homework, email, gaming, chatting with friends, searching the web or watching Youtube, kids these days seem to have an endless number of reasons to be glued to a screen. Many parents out there are wondering how bad this can be for their kids and whether they should be limiting screen time. 

There are certainly benefits to allowing your kids to use digital devices, whether it is educational, social or providing a needed break. However, studies show that excessive screen time can have behavioral consequences such as irritability, moodiness, inability to concentrate, poor behavior, and other issues as well. Too much screen time is also linked to dry eyes and meibomian gland disorders (likely due to a decreased blink rate when using devices), as well as eye strain and irritation, headaches, back or neck and shoulder pain, and sleep disturbances. Some of these computer vision syndrome symptoms are attributed to blue light that is emitted from the screens of digital devices.

Blue light is a short wavelength, high-energy visible light that is emitted by digital screens, LED lights and the sun. Studies suggest that exposure to some waves of blue light over extended periods of time may be harmful to the light-sensitive cells of the retina at the back of the eye. When these cells are damaged, vision loss can occur. Research indicates that extreme blue light exposure could lead to macular degeneration or other serious eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness. Studies show that blue light also interferes with the regulation of the the body’s circadian rhythm which can have a disruptive impact on the body’s sleep cycle. Lack of quality sleep can lead to serious health consequences as well. 

Beyond these studies, the long term effects of blue light exposure from digital devices are not yet known since this is really the first generation in which people are using digital devices to such an extent. While it may take years to fully understand the impact of excessive screen time on our eyes and overall health, it is probably worth limiting it due to these preliminary findings and the risks it may pose. This is especially true for young children and the elderly, who are particularly susceptible to blue light exposure. 

How to Protect the Eyes From Blue Light

The first step in proper eye protection is abstaining from excessive exposure by limiting the amount of time spent using a computer, smart phone or tablet – especially at night, to avoid interfering with sleep. Many pediatricians even recommend zero screen time for children under two. 

The next step would be to reduce the amount of blue light entering the eyes by using blue light blocking glasses or coatings that deflect the light away from the eyes. There are also apps and screen filters that you can add to your devices to reduce the amount of blue light being projected from the screen. Speak to your eye doctor about steps you can take to reduce blue light exposure from digital devices. 

As a side note, the sun is an even greater source of blue light so it is essential to protect your child’s eyes with UV and blue light blocking sunglasses any time your child goes outside – even on overcast days. 

The eyes of children under 18 are particularly susceptible to damage from environmental exposure as they have transparent crystalline lenses that are more susceptible to both UV and blue light rays. While the effects (such as increased risk of age-related macular degeneration) may not be seen for decades later, it’s worth it to do what you can now to prevent future damage and risk for vision loss. 

 

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