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Updated 10 November 2014

Eye health

Are you one of the many people who are poorly informed about your eyes, and how to protect them from injury or disease?

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Most of the knowledge we acquire in life is taught through sight. Still, many of us are poorly informed about our eyes, and how to protect them from injury or disease. Eyes are vulnerable to injury, to bacteria and viruses, and to the harsh effects of the sun.

Though many eye-problems may be minor and will clear up with self-treatment, some may be serious and demand urgent medical attention. You need to know what you can treat at home, which problems can be corrected with glasses, contact lenses or surgical procedures, and when to seek urgent medical attention.

With age come vision changes and the increasing risk of developing more serious eye problems. Some cannot be prevented, but new surgical techniques or medications can slow or even halt progression.

The eye's components include:

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

Seven tips for good eye care:

  • Have your vision checked regularly, as some eye diseases have no early warning symptoms. Generally, children and people over the age of 45 should have two-yearly eye examinations.
  • Keep chronic diseases, including diabetes and hypertension, under control. Many have a damaging effect on your eyes.
  • Treat the following symptoms as emergencies: sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, sudden blurry vision, persistent flashes of light on the edge of the field of vision, loss of vision that looks like a curtain descending, the appearance of haloes or rainbows around light, sudden eye pain, double vision or squint. Any blow to the eye that results in a red spot on any part of the eye, or any of the symptoms described above, should also be investigated.
  • Prevent eye accidents. Wear safety glasses when doing yard work such as mowing the lawn, when playing sports such as squash, or handling dangerous goods or machinery. Always ensure that household aerosol nozzles are turned away from your face. Fireworks pose a hazard to your eyes (most fireworks accidents occur in boys between the ages of 13 and 15). Sparklers, popular with young children, can also cause eye damage.
  • Wear sunglasses, even if its not terribly bright out, to protect your eyes against ultraviolet A and B rays.
  • Eat foods rich in carotenoids, such as kale, raw spinach, and other leafy dark green vegetables.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking causes damage to the retina.

UV light and sunglasses

UV is popularly blamed for causing many eye problems such as pterygia, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, although it has not been conclusively established that normal exposure of the eyes to sunlight causes any of these problems.

To be on the safe side, protect your eyes from the hazards of the sun's radiation by wearing proper sunglasses. Wear a hat for extra protection.

Which sunglasses should I buy?

  • Check the lenses for distortion by looking through them at a linear pattern, such as floor tiles - if the lines remain straight when you move your head up and down, and from side-to-side, you're OK.
  • Select sunglasses which block out at least 85 percent of UV A and B rays. The darkness of the lenses is no indication of the amount of protection.
  • A polarising filter improves both your vision and comfort, as it cuts out glare from horizontal, smooth surfaces such as water planes and highways.
  • The smaller the frame, the less UV protection the sunglasses offer. Select sunglasses which fit snugly without blocking your peripheral vision while driving.
  • Label and style have no bearing on the health of your eyes. A cheaper pair with adequate UV protection has no disadvantages, as long as you have comfortable vision.
 
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