Eye Health

Updated 13 February 2015

Eyesight and eye care basics

Read more about the basics of eyes and eyesight, how to take good care of your eyes and how to improve your visual skills.


The eyes may be proclaimed the windows to the soul, but, in truth, they are extensions of the brain. This fact makes the eyes very vulnerable sensory organs: vulnerable to injury, to bacteria and viruses, and to deterioration of its internal structures. This can lead to loss or weakening of eyesight, and even to systemic illnesses.

Nobody wants to lose his eyesight. Though many eye-problems may be minor and will clear up with self-treatment, some may be serious and demand urgent medical attention. With age come vision changes and the increasing risk of developing more serious eye problems.

Although some eye problems cannot be prevented, new surgical techniques or medications can slow or even halt the progression, and people can improve their eyesight with “old fashioned” glasses or contact lenses or laser surgery, lens implants or other new surgical techniques. .

You need to know what you can treat at home, which problems can be remedied or corrected with glasses or contact lenses or surgical procedures, and when to seek urgent medical attention.

The eye's components include:

The iris is the coloured part of the eye.
The pupil is the round hole in its centre.
The cornea is the transparent layer that lies in front of the iris and pupil.
The lens lies just behind the iris and pupil.

Five tips for good eye care

  1. Have your vision checked regularly. If you are short-sighted by more than –4.00 D (check your prescription), have a yearly retinal check done by your ophthalmologist.
  2. Keep chronic diseases – including diabetes and hypertension - under control.
  3. Treat the following symptoms as emergencies: sudden loss of vision in one eye, sudden blurry vision or blocked-out spots, persistent flashes of light on the edge of the field of vision, coloured haloes around lights with eye pain and loss of vision, double vision, eye pain when looking into bright light or squint.
  4. Wear sunglasses protecting your eyes against ultraviolet A and B rays.
  5. Eat foods rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene, such as cooked carrots, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, oranges, paw-paw and melon.

Five ways to improve your visual skills

With lots of practice and absolute concentration you can read road signs quicker, track a moving target better or improve your golf game, batting average or catch like Jonty Rhodes.

  1. Track a moving target better by bobbing your head around to look at the moving object from different angles.
  2. Play catch with friend, using a ball marked with big letters and numbers, and shout out the last number or letter you see before catching it.
  3. Paste small targets on an old stereo turntable and try to accurately touch the target with a pointer at speeds of 33, 45 and 78 rpm (the targets can be made smaller as the skill improves).
  4. Do focus drills by focussing on ten different object around you, and name them in the correct order.
  5. The split second that it takes the player to change focus from a player far away to the ball near or visa versa may impede reaction time and the performance of the player. To improve this ability, keep changing focus back and forth from your computer screen to a target e.g. a newspaper/calendar on a wall.

Useful resources:
South African National Council for the Blind
Tel: 012 452 3811
Ophthalmological Society of South Africa


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Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg and is currently practising at Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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