To­wards bet­ter vi­sion

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - HEALTHY EYES - By THERESA BELLE

WHEN it comes to car­ing for your eyes, you can­not start soon enough. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant con­sid­er­ing the de­cline in eye health among young peo­ple, which has been at­trib­uted to in­creased use of tech­no­log­i­cal devices.

Lynn Foo, op­tometrist with the Malaysia Glau­coma So­ci­ety ( MGS), says she sees more and more cases of my­opia ( short- sight­ed­ness) among chil­dren who are ex­posed to gad­gets as young as three or four years old.

“Ur­ban­i­sa­tion plays a role in the chang­ing land­scape of eye health – in the past, chil­dren were en­cour­aged to run around and play out­side but now many are con­tent with stay­ing in­doors fac­ing screens for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time,” she ex­plains.

Not only does light from th­ese screens dry up your eyes, it also con­trib­utes to the grad­ual de­gen­er­a­tion of the eyes and strains eye mus­cles, which weak­ens them over time.

Dr Liau Kok Liang, res­i­dent con­sul­tant oph­thal­mol­o­gist at Mahkota Med­i­cal Cen­tre, ad­vises par­ents to train their chil­dren in pro­tec­tive and hy­gienic mea­sures, in­clud­ing lim­it­ing use of gad­gets and main­tain­ing a safe dis­tance when us­ing them as well as read­ing and do­ing home­work at a com­fort­able dis­tance from printed ma­te­rial.

Mil­len­ni­als fac­ing smart­phone, tele­vi­sion or com­puter screens for hours on end to­day were the chil­dren who were told to keep their dis­tance from the tele­vi­sion when they were young.

Stud­ies have proven that this warn­ing is not to be taken lightly due to the long- last­ing im­pact of light ex­po­sure.

Data re­leased by eye health group Opte­gra re­veals that those do­ing of­fice and cler­i­cal work are at high­est risk of poor eye health com­pared to those in other sec­tors, which is un­sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing the eyes are con­tin­u­ally strained in a mod­ern of­fice en­vi­ron­ment.

Light can be both bad and good for the eyes, de­pend­ing on its type and level of ex­po­sure. For ex­am­ple, we are ad­vised to read un­der bright light but at the same time, told to use sun­glasses that of­fer the best pro­tec­tion from ul­travi­o­let ( UV) rays.

“The pupils nat­u­rally di­late to al­low light to en­ter the eyes. With­out proper pro­tec­tion against harm­ful rays, lenses are eas­ily dam­aged with ex­cess ex­po­sure to light,” says Foo.

A large part of preven­tive care is in­clud­ing the right nutri­tion in your daily diet. Ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion of Malaysian Op­tometrists, vi­ta­min E is im­por­tant for the retina, while long- term con­sump­tion of vi­ta­min C helps pre­vent cataracts.

An­tiox­i­dants lutein and zeax­an­thin, which can be found in corn, spinach and cel­ery, help fil­ter harm­ful blue light and quench haz­ardous free rad­i­cals in the mac­ula ( oval yel­low­ish area near cen­tre of the retina, which is the re­gion of great­est vis­ual acu­ity), which also pre­vents cataracts. Keep­ing a bal­anced diet with fish, meat, grains, fruits and veg­eta­bles is the best op­tion.

Main­tain­ing healthy life­style habits in gen­eral pro­tects the eye be­cause when the body is fit and dis­ease- free, the risk of se­ri­ous eye com­pli­ca­tions is re­duced.

Sys­temic dis­eases such as di­a­betes are closely linked with op­ti­cal health – this is why di­a­betic pa­tients must un­dergo reg­u­lar checks for di­a­betic retinopa­thy, which oc­curs when reti­nal blood ves­sels are dam­aged by high sugar lev­els and can lead to blind­ness.

Be­sides that, it is im­por­tant to keep eyes clean to avoid in­fec­tion. For ex­am­ple, con­tact lenses must be prop­erly cleaned and stored in a ster­ile so­lu­tion and should not be worn for longer pe­ri­ods of time than pre­scribed.

Foo also warns against the dan­ger­ous trend of us­ing un­cer­ti­fied lenses – al­though they may be cheap and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, con­tact lenses sold in night mar­kets and the like of­ten come from unau­tho­rised sup­pli­ers. Con­tact lenses use must be pre­scribed and mon­i­tored by an op­tometrist.

Steven Chan never had prob­lems with his eye­sight be­fore he was di­ag­nosed with glau­coma in 2002.

The con­di­tion is char­ac­terised by in­creased in­traoc­u­lar pres­sure ( oc­cur­ing in the eye­ball), which dam­ages op­tic nerves to cause grad­ual blind­ness – this pres­sure caused Chan to suf­fer sud­den, ter­ri­ble headaches.

Within the next five years, he un­der­went nine surg­eries to ad­dress this con­di­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, com­bined with the ef­fects of di­a­betic retinopa­thy, Chan lost his eye­sight in 2007.

Af­ter this life- chang­ing event, he founded MGS in 2009 to ad­dress the lack of pub­lic knowl­edge and ac­tion on this eye dis­ease.

This was fol­lowed by the for­ma­tion of Save Our Sight Malaysia ( SOSM) in 2010, a non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion that cares for and sup­ports pa­tients with all types of eye dis­or­ders, and the Malaysian chap­ter of Di­a­logue in the Dark, an in­ter­na­tional so­cial en­ter­prise that lets peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence liv­ing in

ab­so­lute dark­ness while led by blind guides.

MGS and SOSM have worked with var­i­ous agen­cies to bring eye check fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices to those in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties at high risk of de­vel­op­ing eye com­pli­ca­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to Chan, th­ese ef­forts share the aim of rais­ing aware­ness on eye care and checks, es­pe­cially among the young and the sick.

“There are 3.2 mil­lion di­a­bet­ics in the coun­try, of which 8% to 10% will lose their eye­sight within the next decade,” he ex­plains, adding that the pub­lic health­care sys­tem does not place suf­fi­cient em­pha­sis on eye health, which is why so many peo­ple still take th­ese vi­tal or­gans for granted.

Min­istry of Health Data from 2014 places the ra­tio of op­tometrists to the pop­u­la­tion at 1: 22,450. This ra­tio, to­gether with mea­gre op­tom­e­try of­fer­ings in pub­lic health­care, means that Malaysians are left to seek guid­ance and pro­tec­tion through their own ini­tia­tive.

Since eye dis­eases do not typ­i­cally present symp­toms early, you may not be able to clearly iden­tify a com­pli­ca­tion.

Health pro­fes­sion­als rec­om­mend at­tend­ing eye checks at least once ev­ery two years or once a year if you have eye prob­lems to take charge of your eye­sight be­fore it is

too late.

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