Towards better vision
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