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A Visual Perspective of our World and Body: Interview with an Optometrist

OPSM

Health Space Chiropractor Zlatko Jovanov speaks with local Northern Beaches Optometrist Lauren Richard from OPSM Mona Vale about the importance of eye health.

Why is it important for people to check their eyes regularly? How often should our eyesight be assessed?

Eye exams go beyond just testing your eyesight. They also check that your eyes stay healthy. Eyes are also an effective window to your overall health and an eye exam can often detect common medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol and eye cancers. We recommend routine eye exams at least every 2 years and sooner if you notice a change in your vision.

What’s a good age for kids to start getting their eyes checked?

Optometrists can test the eyes of children of all ages. If there are no concerns over your child’s vision or no family history of any eye problems then we recommend children see an optometrist and have a comprehensive eye examination just before they start school.

As a Chiropractor, I have a keen interest in spinal stability and our ability to maintain our balance. In my practice, I focus on the role my patient’s sense of proprioception (signals from their moving joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments to the brain) plays in maintaining spinal stability. But humans are visual beings, and we rely on cues from our visual system for our body awareness (easily demonstrated if you stand on 1 leg, and see how stable you are with your eyes open compared to eyes closed). If we look at a person with a sedentary lifestyle or occupation that spends a lot of time sitting in front of a computer or screen, they tend to lose body awareness, and their sense of balance becomes even more reliant upon their vision. What detrimental effects can prolonged screen time have on a person’s eyes and vision?

Prolonged screen time can cause dry eyes, headaches, eyestrain and blurred vision. Over time, this can cause more permanent changes in vision including myopia (shortsightedness).

So lots of screen time isn’t great for the eyes (I’m assuming ), and because people aren’t usually moving while they’re looking at a screen, it isn’t great for their neck, lower back,shoulders, or overall posture. An inactive lifestyle also increases risk for certain diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. How can these conditions affect our vision?

High blood pressure and diabetes can cause damage to the delicate blood vessels in the retina which is the surface inside the eye where images focus. When the retina is affected you may notice blurry vision or transient changes in vision.

A common presentation at our clinic is a patient with forward head carriage. They present with aches and pains in the neck/upper back, shoulders, sometimes headaches and eyestrain. If someone has a subtle problem with their vision, they may not even realise that their head and neck slowly drift closer and closer to the screen. While this might help them see the screen more clearly, it creates a lot of nasty sprain and strain loads on the spine. What are your tips for people who need to spend lots of time in front of a screen each day?

Optometrists recommend taking a 20 second break from near work every 20 minutes. To remind you to look up, you could set a timer, or make sure to look up after every two chapters of a book or after a new level in a computer game. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your screen for comfort. Maintain good posture with the screen more than 40 cm away from your eyes for all devices and with your eyes level with the top of your monitor for desktop computers. Get up at least every 2 hours from focused computer work and take a 10 minute break.

The Elderly tend to suffer a decline in their sense of body awareness and balance, increasing their risk of falls. This, paired with weak osteoporotic bones is a cause for concern. Some of their decline in balance may be due to musculoskeletal deconditioning. What role can be attributed to deteriorating vision?

The older you get the more you are at risk of developing a problem with your eyes. Macular degeneration affects your central vision causing difficulty seeing the detail in what you’re looking at.  Similarly, cataracts can cause blurred vision but also reduce the contrast of objects making it difficult to see in low light situations. This puts people at risk of falls. Glaucoma affects peripheral vision and reduces spatial awareness. Eye exams can pick these conditions up early to enable treatment to maintain good vision.

What are blue-light filtering lenses? And can they help the eyes for people spending lots of time in front of screens?

We are all aware of the effects of UV light and how to manage them, but we should also be aware of the effects of blue-violet light.

Blue-violet light comes principally from the sun but also from our favourite devices such as computer screens, tablets, smart phones as well as artificial light sources such as LEDs. Blue-violet light can suppress the natural release of melatonin, causing disrupted sleep. Due to of our reliance on digital devices, and the amount emitted from the sun it’s not easy to avoid blue-violet light altogether, however you can reduce exposure with new technology like OPSM BlueGuard™ lenses. BlueGuard lenses can also reduce the symptoms of eye strain, and prevent blue-violet light interfering with the body’s circadian rhythm, which can impact a good night’s sleep.

Living on the northern beaches, what sun safety tips do you recommend when it comes to protecting our eyes from harmful UV radiation and preserving our vision? What benefits do polarised lens sunnies offer?

Protection from UV light is critical to protect the eyes and prevent skin cancers on or around the eyes.  People on the water early in the morning including surfers, rowers and kayakers are even more risk as the angle of the sun at that time is directly in the eyes.  Polarized sunglasses block glare and light reflecting off the water’s surface better than regular sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses can help when driving because they reduce glare from reflections off other cars and light surfaces.

If you had to summarise your top tips for maximising and preserving the health of our eyes and vision, what would they be?

  1. Give your eyes a rest! Take frequent breaks from near work
  2. Spend time outdoors (especially children as outdoor activity protects against developing myopia)
  3. Eat a balanced diet rich in antioxidants: omega 3, Vit C and E (nuts and grains), lutein and zeathantin (green leafy veges and pumpkin) and zinc
  4. Don’t smoke
  5. Wear good quality sunglasses outdoors and eye protection where appropriate
  6. Have an eye examination at least 2 yearly or according to your optometrist’s advice
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