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Save your sight: eight vital tips for better eye health

Just because you can see now doesn’t mean your sight will be safe for ever, warns an optometrist

22 October 2016

9:00 AM

22 October 2016

9:00 AM

Keep an eye on your vision

Almost 14 million people in the UK don’t have their eyes-tested every two years, even though 55 per cent of us saying deteriorating vision is the biggest worry about getting older. That’s one of the findings of a new Generation Eye Report produced for National Eye Health Week in tandem with-Specsavers. Tests at least every two years are recommended for everyone. ‘Just because you can see doesn’t mean your sight is safe,’ says Dr Susan Blakeney, optometric adviser to the College of Optometrists. ‘Cover each eye in turn to check your own vision on a-regular basis; you can lose quite a lot of vision in one eye without realising it.’ Eye exams also check for symptoms of glaucoma (raised eye-pressure levels that can lead to blindness). Optometrists can detect early signs of cardiovascular disease and even brain tumours, too.

Watch out for dandruff

An accumulation of dandruff on the eyelashes can lead to blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids caused by the staphylococcus bacteria. While this is irritating — your eyes feel dry and gritty — it’s easy to treat at home, says Dr-Blakeney. ‘Keep eyelids clean using hot and cold compresses, then gently clean them with a solution made of a drop of baby shampoo in an egg-cup of cooled boiled water. You can also try commercial lid wipes.’ These include OcuSoft Lid Scrub Plus Pads (20 Pads for £9.99) or Boots Pharmaceuticals Blepharitis Eye Lid Foam (100 ml; £9.99).

Garden with care

Poking your eye with a cane or twig when weeding or clearing a garden can be painful because the cornea (the transparent layer protecting the eye) is only half a millimetre thick. Dr Blakeney points out that although most of us will wear safety glasses for something obviously dangerous such as angle-grinding, we tend to be too casual about other risks. ‘Sticks and branches are dirty and could cause an infection, ’ she says. Strimming can send small stones-flying up at odd angles. And pond water can contain a nasty bug called acantha-moeba, which causes corneal ulcers.

Don’t go to the GP

If your eyes are red or sore or your vision is changing, head to the optometrist before your GP, says Dr Blakeney. This is-particularly important if you are seeing more ‘floaters’ or there is a new large one, or there are flashes of light in your eyes. These can be symptoms of a detaching retina. It’s not common but the risk goes up with age, and is higher if you have cataracts or are short–sighted. ‘The most serious symptom is a veil or curtain across your vision — if that happens go straight to your local eye casualty department,’ adds the doctor. Detached retinas can be treated with surgery — most commonly a vitrectomy. Fluid is taken from inside the eye and replaced with a gas or silicone bubble to keep the retina in position.

Watch the red eye

If you notice a small bleed on your eye there’s no need to be alarmed, says Dr Blakeney. ‘This will be a subconjunctival haemorrhage or broken blood vessel and the blood will absorb back into the eye in a week or so.’ This can be caused by heavy lifting, sneezing or coughing If you are prone to repeated bleeds or have high blood pressure,-however, Dr Blakeney recommends a check-up by an optometrist, especially if you see black spots in your vision or the bleed appears after a-trauma or blow to the eye.

Eat more kiwis

The most common cause of sight loss in the developed world is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects about 600,000 people in the UK. Nine out of ten of these have a ‘dry’ form of AMD caused when the cells of the macula (the bit of the retina responsible for central vision) is damaged by a build-up of deposits called ‘drusen’. This kind of vision loss happens gradually over many years. There is no cure, but the NHS says a diet high in-vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E (found in foods such as kiwis, leafy green veg, tomatoes and carrots) — as well as-substances called lutein and zeaxanthin — may slow the progression of dry AMD.

Look at straight lines

The other 10 per cent of AMD sufferers have the ‘wet’ kind, which occurs when abnormal blood vessels form underneath the macula and damage its cells. You can check for this by looking at lines you know to be parallel, such as Venetian blinds. ‘If you see wavy lines this can be an indicator of wet macular disease and needs to be taken seriously,’ says Dr Blakeney. ‘Seek help quickly because damage to the macula can be permanent and lead to sight loss.’ Treatment includes VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) drugs such as Lucentis, which are approved for NHS use and can halt or slow the degeneration. New therapies include macular translocation, in which the macula is repositioned over a healthier section of the eyeball not affected by abnormal blood vessels, and lens implantation, in which the lens of the eye is removed and replaced with an artificial one designed to enhance central vision.

Stop smoking

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 toxic chemicals that damage the tiny blood vessels inside your eyes, causing blockages and internal bleeding. These chemicals interfere with the production of tears, which are important because it’s the tear film that keeps the front of your eye healthy and helps them to focus clearly. Smoking also causes ‘oxidative stress’, which damages your retina and reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the macula. Research published in the British Medical Journal in May 2004 suggests one in five cases of AMD are caused by smoking. It is also a major risk factor in the development of cataracts and a significant one in the development of diabetic retinopathy, one of the top five causes of sight loss in the UK.

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