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Have an Eye Safe Halloween

Have an Eye Safe Halloween - Hallowen frames in Spring TX

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

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?

blue light and screen time

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.

 

Signs That Your Child Has a Vision Problem

kids eyeglasses Spring TX

Healthy eyes and good vision are essential for your child’s growth and development. In fact, learning is 80% visual, which means a child’s success in school, athletics and many other aspects of life can be impacted by poor vision. Good vision goes beyond how far you can see, and also includes a number of other skills such as visual processing and eye movement abilities.

Often times vision deficiencies are at the root of learning problems and behavioral issues and may unfortunately go unchecked and misdiagnosed. Remember, if your child is having trouble in school, an eye exam and a pair of prescription glasses is a much easier solution than treating a learning disorder or ADHD; yet many people fail to check that first.

It is common for children to think that their vision deficiency is normal and therefore they often won’t report it to parents or teachers. That is why it is even more important to know what to look for. Here are some signs that your child may have a vision problem:

Vision Signs

  • Squinting or blinking often
  • Eye rubbing
  • Tilting the head to the side
  • Covering one eye
  • One eye that turns out or in
  • Reporting double vision
  • Holding books or reading materials very close to the face

 

Behavioral Signs

  • Complaining of headaches or eye fatigue
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty reading
  • Losing their place frequently when reading
  • Avoiding reading or any activity that requires close work
  • Problems with reading comprehension or recall
  • Behavioral issues that stem from frustration and/or boredom
  • Poor performance and achievement in school or athletics
  • Working twice as hard to achieve minimal performance in school

Another issue is that many parents and teachers think that a school vision screening is sufficient to assess a child’s vision, so if that test comes back okay, they believe there is no vision problem. This however, is far from the case. A school vision test usually only assesses visual acuity for distance vision or how far a child can see. Even a child with 20/20 vision can have significant vision problems that prevent them from seeing, reading and processing visual information.

Every child of school age should have comprehensive eye and vision exams on a regular, yearly basis to assess their eye and vision health, and ensure that any issues are addressed as soon as possible. It’s also important to have an exam prior to entering kindergarten, as undetected lazy eye may be more complicated to treat past seven years of age.

Some of the issues the eye doctor may look for, in addition to good visual acuity, are the ability to focus, eye teaming and tracking, visual perception, hand-eye coordination, depth perception and peripheral vision. They will also assess the health of the eye and look for any underlying conditions that may be impairing vision. Depending on the problem the eye doctor may prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses or vision therapy to correct the issue.

During the school years a child’s eyes and vision continue to develop and change so it is important to continually check in on your child’s vision. If you have a family history of vision problems, follow-ups are even more important. Progressive conditions like progressive myopia, strabismus (crossed eyes), amblyopia (lazy eye) or astigmatism can be treated and monitored for changes with early treatment so it’s important to seek a doctor’s diagnosis as soon as signs or symptoms are present.

Make sure that your child has the best possible chances for success in school and add a comprehensive eye exam to your back to school to-do list.

Sports Vision Deconstructed

Sports Vision

Vision is a critical component to succeed as an athlete and this doesn’t just mean having 20/20 vision. There are a number of visual processes that are involved in optimal sports performance, whether you are playing a weekly little league game or competing in professional sports.

The eyes and the brain work together to receive, process and respond to visual and sensory information and this amazing ability is what allows us to engage with the world around us. However, when one or more of these processes is disrupted, whether it be the eye itself or in the processing of the information that the eye brings in, it can cause difficulty in a number of areas, particularly movement and sports.

Here is a breakdown of some of the visual skills you rely on for athletic performance:

Visual Acuity: the ability to see clearly is one of the most important aspects of vision. To improve visual acuity your eye doctor can prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses, as well as prescription sunglasses, swimming goggles and sports goggles. LASIK or refractive eye surgery or orthokeratology may also be options for improving visual acuity without having to wear vision correction during play.

Dynamic Visual Acuity: the ability to see moving objects clearly.

Peripheral Vision: your side vision or the ability to see out of the corner or sides of your eyes when you are looking straight ahead.

Peripheral Awareness/Visual Concentration: The ability to be engaged in a task while having awareness of peripheral and other visual stimuli without being distracted by them.

Depth Perception: the ability to perceive the relative distance and speed of objects in your field of vision.

Visual Tracking: the movement of the eye that allows for the ability to follow a moving object, switch visual attention from one object to another or to track a line of text. This allows an athlete to “keep an eye on the ball”.

Focusing: allows for the ability change focus quickly and clearly from one distance or object to another.

Eye Teaming: the ability for the two eyes to work together in coordination.

Hand-Eye, Body-Eye Coordination: the ability of your eyes to guide your hands and body to carry out movements accurately and effectively.

Visual Reaction Time: how quickly your brain is able to interpret visual information and respond with the appropriate motor action.

Often we take the wonder of our eyes and brain for granted, not realizing all of the systems that must be in place in order for us to perform optimally in our daily lives… all the more so for top notch sports performance (and these are just the functions that are related to your eyes!)

Typically, visual processes occur automatically, without us paying much attention to them, but they are skills which can be improved. If you feel that you or your child might have some difficulty with one or more of these visual skills, speak to your eye doctor. Through proper eyewear, exercises, nutrition and sometimes vision therapy, it can be possible to improve upon these skills and as a result, enhance your performance on the field. In fact, professional athletes often utilize a combination of vision therapy and nutritional supplements (such as lutein and zeaxathin) to enhance their vision and reaction time for better performance on the field.

Additionally, you want to make sure – whether you have visual processing issues or not – that you protect your eyes properly. Unfortunately, many injuries occur from an over-confidence that the eyes are safe during sports. Speak to your eye doctor about the right sports safety eyewear to protect your or your child’s eyes during your favorite sports.

7 Eye Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

woman book an eye exam in Spring Texas

While we all know that regular eye exams can help detect warning signs of disease and prevent vision loss, many people fail to seek medical attention when there is an acute problem with the eye. In fact, only about half of Americans that are at risk for serious vision loss have been examined by an eye doctor within the last year, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While it’s true that some eye symptoms resolve on their own, it’s better not to take the chance when your eyesight is at risk. Here are seven eye symptoms that should be checked out by an eye doctor immediately, as they could indicate a serious underlying condition that could threaten your vision. Remember, even if you think the issue is minor, getting proper medical attention could be vital to saving your vision.

  1. Frequent FloatersFloaters are shadows or spots that appear to float through your field of vision, particularly when you are looking at a solid colored or bright background such as the blue sky or a white wall. They can appear in a variety of shapes such as a shower of dots or mosquito shaped for example. It is common to see floaters on occasion, however if you experience a sudden increase, especially in combination with pain, flashes or loss of peripheral vision, you should see a doctor immediately. Flashes of light may appear as a quick spark or jagged streaks of light or arcs among other shapes. This could be a sign of a very serious problem such as detached or torn retina, a hemorrhage or bleeding inside the eye, an inflammation of the vitreous or retina caused by an infection or injury or an eye tumor. In the case of a retinal detachment, the different pattern of floaters or flashes depend on how the retina tears, so if you suddenly notice a distinct pattern of floaters or light in your vision, don’t delay: seek medical attention within 24 hours.
  2. Persistent Redness or IrritationWhile minor redness can simply be a result of allergies, exhaustion or extended contact lens wear, there are some more serious causes of eye redness, especially if it persists or is accompanied by pain, swelling, discharge, vision disturbance or severe itchiness. Along with conjunctivitis (or pink eye) which can be a very contagious eye infection, redness can indicate a corneal scratch, uveitis or glaucoma.
  3. Excessive Watery EyesWhether you have a foreign object in your eye or are experiencing dryness due to allergies or environmental factors, eye watering is a natural response to keep your eyes healthy, comfortable and safe. When it is constant and disruptive, however, this is no longer normal. Excessive eye watering could indicate a chronic condition such as dry eye syndrome, tear duct problems or problems with the cornea such as a scratch or an ulcer.
  4. Foreign Body in the EyeIf you experience a foreign object in your eye, the first thing to do it try to flush it out. Never rub the eye as it could cause even greater damage. If your efforts to flush the object out are not successful it is time to see a doctor. Additionally, if you are experiencing vision disturbances, pain or redness while the object is there or after you think you have removed it, see an eye doctor immediately.
  5. Ptosis (Droopy Eyelid)Ptosis or drooping eyelids is seen in one or both eyelids and can be caused by benign conditions such as allergies or merely part of the aging process. Nevertheless, it can also be a sign of a serious condition such as nerve damage, a stroke, brain tumor or a condition called myasthenia gravis, which is a neurological condition that affects the muscles of the eye. It is also sometimes a result of eye surgery or injury. Often ptosis will resolve gradually on its own, however it is something that should be checked out, especially if it occurs suddenly, to ensure there is no serious underlying cause.
  6. Bleeding EyesA subconjunctival hemorrhage in the eye is when a blood vessel right under the surface of the eye breaks. You will see that the white part or sclera of the eye has turned red. Usually, this common occurrence is nothing to be concerned about as this can happen from something as simple as straining, a sneeze or cough. In this case there is nothing to do and it will resolve on its own. If however, the redness comes after an injury to your eye or head it could indicate that there is bleeding in the brain and should be examined immediately.
  7. Moderate to Severe Eye PainThere are several causes of eye pain, the most serious of which is acute angle closure glaucoma or uveitis. Other causes of pain can include corneal abrasions and ulcers, scleritis, orbital cellulitis and sinusitis.

When it comes to problems with the eye, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and get them checked out. Doing otherwise, could cost you your eyesight. Your eye doctor can help.

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

Women’s Eye Health

April 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.

Signs of Eye and Vision Problems in Infants

eye care for babies - dad hagging a baby

Infant Eyesight

Despite nine months of growth in utero, babies are not born with fully developed eyes and vision – just like they can’t walk or talk yet. Over the first few months of life, their visual systems continue to progress, stimulated by their surroundings.

Babies will develop the ability to track objects, focus their eyes, and move them like a team. Their visual acuity will improve and they will gradually be able to see more colors. They will also form the neural connections that will allow them to process what they see, to understand and interact with the world around them.

Healthy eyes and good vision are necessary for proper and timely progress; ocular or visual problems can lead to developmental delays.

So how do you know if your infant is developing normally? What can you do to ensure your baby’s eye health and vision are on track? While infant eye problems are not common here are some steps you can take to ensure your child’s eyes are healthy.

#1 Schedule a six month check-up.

It is recommended to get the first professional comprehensive eye and vision exam for your child between six and 12 months of age.

Your optometrist should check for the following skills at the 6-month checkup:

  • Visual acuity (nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism)
  • Eye muscle and movement capabilities
  • Eye health

If you have any concerns prior to six months, don’t hesitate to take your baby for an exam earlier.

#2 Engage in visually stimulating play.

Incorporating visually stimulating play for your child will help develop visual processes like eye tracking and eye teaming.

A baby’s initial focusing distance is 20-30 cm, so to nurture healthy vision skills, keep high contrast “reach and touch” toys within this distance. Alternate right and left sides with each feeding, and provide toys that encourage tracking of moving objects to foster eye-hand coordination and depth perception.

Pediatricians in North America recommend that NO screen time be allowed under the age of 2, as many forms of development may be delayed from premature use of digital devices.

#3 Be alert to eye and vision problems.

Keep an eye out for indications of an eye health problem, and contact an eye doctor to discuss any concerns you may have. Some symptoms to pay attention to include:

  • Red eyes or eyelids, which may or may not be accompanied by discharge and crusty lids. This may indicate an eye infection that can be very contagious and may require medication.
  • Excessive eye watering or tearing. This may be caused by a problem with the tear ducts, such as a blockage.
  • Extreme light sensitivity. While some light sensitivity is normal, significant sensitivity to light can be a sign of disease or elevated eye pressure.
  • Eye “jiggling” or bouncing. This suggests a problem with the muscle control of the eyes.
  • Eye turn. Whether it is an eye that seems to cross in or a “lazy eye” that turns out, this is often associated with a refractive error or eye muscle issues that could require treatment such as eyeglasses, vision therapy, patching or surgery.
  • White pupil. This can be a sign of a number of diseases, including cancer. If you see this have it checked out immediately.

Since your infant’s eyes are still maturing, any issues that are found can likely be corrected with proper care and treatment. The important thing is to find a pediatric eye care provider that you trust because you will want to regularly check the health of your child’s eyes to ensure proper learning and development throughout infancy and beyond.

AMD Awareness Could Save Your Vision

sunglasses in Spring, TX

It’s that time of the year again. Each February, the optometric community bands together to create awareness about age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a leading cause of vision loss for people 50 years and older; early detection plays a key role in the outcome of the disease. That’s why bringing awareness to the disease and its risk factors is so important.

Macular degeneration is a disease that damages the macula, which is a small area in the center of the retina responsible for sharp, clear central vision. The disease comes in two forms, wet AMD and dry AMD. The most common form, dry AMD, which affects around 80% of AMD patients, is when the macula gradually thins, and small clusters of protein called drusen begin to grow. Drusen result from cells in the macula that cannot rid themselves of metabolic waste called lipofuscin. The lipofuscin accumulates as drusen which causes a gradual vision decline.

Dry AMD can turn into wet AMD when abnormal new blood vessels grow through breaks in a membrane layer of the thinning macula. The fragile blood vessels leak fluid into the macula, causing rapid decrease in central vision.The wet form is less common, yet it can cause a faster and more drastic vision loss. If a person has dry AMD which turns into wet AMD, this should be treated as soon as possible, as within days this can cause permanent scarring. Fortunately, there is effective treatment for wet AMD if detected before scarring arises.

Both forms of AMD result in a loss of central vision, while peripheral vision stays intact. Symptoms can present as difficulty focusing on objects in front of you, or a blurred or dulled area in the central visual field which leads to having trouble reading, doing close work, driving or even recognizing faces. With time, the size of the blurred area can grow and eventually develop into black spots in central vision. Oftentimes patients don’t even notice symptoms until a significant amount of damage has been done. This is why regular eye exams are critical, especially if you are at risk.

While AMD alone won’t cause complete blindness, it can cause a permanent, total loss of central vision if not treated. Vision loss can lead to a condition called low vision which can have a very serious impact on daily living and require a lot of assistance both by vision devices and the help of others.

Are You at Risk?

As it is an age-related disease, age is a significant risk factor for AMD, specifically once you reach 60. However, age is not the only risk factor. While some risk factors for AMD cannot be controlled there are lifestyle factors that you can change to prevent AMD.

Other than age, risk factors include:

  • Family history: If you have a family history of AMD, you are more at risk. Research has identified at least 20 genes that are associated with AMD, showing there is a genetic factor.
  • Race: Caucasian descent is a higher risk factor for AMD, and in fact, Caucasians with light irises have an increased risk from age 50.
  • Smoking: Smoking doubles your risk of developing AMD.
  • Overweight/Obesity: Research shows that being overweight is a risk factor for AMD.
  • Having heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol increase your risks.
  • Diet: An unhealthy diet rich in saturated fats is a significant risk factor.
  • Early exposure to UV light and blue hazard light (especially with the younger generation having increased exposure to digital devices) can cause early onset AMD.

Here are some lifestyle steps you can take to reduce your risk of AMD:

  • Stop smoking
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids, (from fatty fish or flax seeds), leafy greens and colorful fruits and vegetables.
  • Know your family history.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Protect your eyes using UV protection and blue blocker coatings on eyeglasses.
  • Get regular eye exams.

In addition to a comprehensive eye exam, your doctor may be able to test for certain risk factors. For example, there is now technology available that can test for lutein levels via technology such as QuantifEye and Macuscope, (low lutein can indicate increased risk). In addition, genetic testing is also now available through a simple cheek swab to determine an individual’s risk for developing AMD.

Treatment

There is no known cure for AMD, however there are treatments available that may slow the progression of the disease. For dry AMD, studies (AREDS and AREDS2) have concluded that a particular high-dose combination of nutritional supplements taken daily can slow the disease. The combo includes vitamins C and E, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Zinc and Copper. For wet AMD, the goal is to reduce the growth of abnormal blood vessels and the leakage that takes place and this is done through certain medications called anti-VEGFs which are injected into the eye or with laser surgery.

Untreated macular degeneration can have devastating effects on your independence and quality of life. If you are 50 or over, speak to your eye doctor about your risk factors and what you can do to prevent AMD.

Trouble Seeing at Night? All About Night Blindness

road at night - Night Blindness

At this time of year when the sun sets early, many people are affected by night blindness. Night blindness or nyctalopia refers to difficulty seeing at night or in poor or dim lighting situations. It can be caused by a number of underlying conditions, sometimes completely benign and sometimes as a symptom of a more serious eye disease. So, if you are experiencing trouble seeing in low light, especially if it is a sudden onset of the condition, it is worth having it checked out by your eye doctor.

Signs of Night Blindness

The main indication of night blindness is difficulty seeing well in dark or dim lighting, especially when transitioning from a brighter to a lower light environment, like walking from outside into a dimly lit room. Many experience difficulty driving at night, particularly with the glare of the streetlights or the headlights from oncoming traffic.

Causes of Night Blindness

Night blindness is a condition that can be present from birth, or caused by a disease, injury or even a vitamin deficiency. In order to treat the condition, your eye doctor will need to determine the cause. Here are some of the common causes:

  • Nearsightedness (myopia) – many people with nearsightedness (or difficulty seeing objects in the distance) experience some degree of night blindness, especially when driving.
  • Retinitis Pigmentosa – a genetic condition in which the pigmented cells in the retina break down causing a loss of peripheral vision and night blindness.
  • Cataracts – a clouding of the natural lens of the eye causing vision loss.
  • Glaucoma – a group of diseases that involve damage to the optic nerve and subsequent vision loss.
  • Vitamin A Deficiency – vitamin A or retinol is found in greens (kale, spinach, collards, broccoli etc.), eggs, liver, orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, mango etc.), eggs and butter. Your doctor may also prescribe Vitamin A supplements if you have a serious deficiency.
  • Eye Surgery – refractive surgery such as LASIK sometimes results in reduced night vision as either a temporary or sometimes a permanent side effect.
  • Injury – an injury to the eye or the part of the brain that processes vision can result in reduced night vision.
  • Uncorrected Visual Error – many people experience better daytime vision as the pupils are smaller and provide greater depth of field to compensate for any vision problems. At night, the pupils dilate, so blur is increased from uncorrected nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism or distortions/aberrations on the cornea from refractive surgery. Even a slight prescription for someone who may not need glasses during the day can make a significant improvement in night vision.
  • Eyewear Problems – even if your vision correction is accurate, badly scratched glasses or poor/defective lens coatings can also cause trouble seeing at night. Special lens coatings are now available on glasses for night time and foggy conditions.

Treatment for Night Blindness

Some causes for night blindness are treatable, while others are not, so the first step is a comprehensive eye exam to determine what the root of the problem is. Treatments range from simply purchasing a special pair of glasses, lens coatings or contact lenses to wear at night (for optical issues such as myopia) to surgery (to correct the underlying problem such as cataracts), to medication (for diseases like glaucoma). In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you avoid driving at night. During the day, it may help to wear sunglasses or a brimmed hat to ease the transition indoors.

As with any change in vision, it is critical to get your eyes checked as soon as you begin to experience symptoms, and on a routine basis even if you’re symptom-free. Not only will this improve your chances of detecting and treating a vision-threatening disease if you have one brewing, but treatment will also keep you more comfortable seeing in low-light, and keep you and your loved ones safe at night or in poor light conditions.