Keep your eyes healthy

Question 1: Many people have dry eyes. What are the best ways to treat this problem?

Dry eye is such a common problem. The key is to remember A happy eye is a wet eye. People with dry eye are uncomfortable. They complain of burning, redness, eye fatigue, blurred vision, and even tearing because the eye is so dry that it sets off the tear reflex. The causes of dry eye include eye lid inflammation, previous eye surgeries, medications, diseases, and the natural aging process. In fact, post menopausal women have significantly high rates of dry eye.

For initial treatment, I recommend simple things to keep the eye wet like artificial tears which you can buy over the counter, humidifier at the bedroom, moving fans and vents away from where you work, and blinking more. Also, those omega-fatty acids that you've heard about in fish oil and flax seed oil that are so great for the heart help dry eye and dry skin. If these don't help, it's time to see an eye specialist.

Question 2: What should you be aware of when it comes to eye protection.

That such a great question. Every year 800,000 Americans will sustain serious eye injuries-and sadly, the majority are preventable. It's important to wear eye protection at home, work and play. You can go to the local hardware store and pick up these safety glasses for 10 dollars. Look for these glasses that have the ANSI Z.87. They are great for working on the car, sawing, hammering, mixing chemicals. And just wear them. They aren't going to help lying in drawer.

Question 3: How do you shop for sunglasses? What are the most important things to look for.

It doesn't matter about the price, the tinting, the type of lenses, whether you bought the sunglasses in a boutique or in the drug store or whether they say Target or Gucci. What matters most is your sunglasses say 100%, meaning they block 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Here's an example of the labeling on this pair of sunglasses. UVA and UVB are associated with skin cancers and eye growths, and they may cause cataracts and macular degeneration. Look for that label because they are not always marked or ask your optician.

That being said, pick a pair of sunglasses that make you feel great. Your sunglasses should look good on you, be comfortable, and not distort your vision. If the glasses feel great, you'll wear them again. Once again price doesn't matter. If you play sports, you may want to get the high-impact resistant glasses.

Question 4: What are eye symptoms that people shouldn't ignore.

Most serious eye diseases have no symptoms until late in the disease. That's why when you have symptoms, it's important to get an eye exam right away. These symptoms include sudden loss of vision in one eye, persistent blurred/distorted images, seeing a dark curtain over your vision, or loss of peripheral vision all require an urgent eye examination. Because most eye diseases have no symptoms, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends everyone at the age of 40 to get a baseline screening eye examination. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of eye disease, it's important to see your eye doctor much sooner.

Question 4b: Many people can strain their eyes all these without realizing it (staring at the computer all day, reading, etc). Can you teach us a quick eye-relaxing exercise?

A component of computer eye strain is focusing fatigue. To reduce your risk of tiring your eyes by constantly focusing on your screen, look away from your computer every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object outside or down the hallway. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscles inside the eye to reduce fatigue.

Another exercise is to look far away at an object for 10-15 seconds, then gaze at something up close for 10-15 seconds. Then look back at the distant object. Do this 10 times. This exercise reduces the risk of your eyes' focusing ability to "lock up" (a condition called accommodative spasm) after prolonged computer work.

Both of these exercises will reduce your risk of computer eye strain. Remember also to blink frequently during the exercises to reduce your risk of computer-related dry eye.

Question 5: Talk about lifestyle factors which could influence our eye health.

All the things that keep your body healthy will keep your eyes healthy. Exercise, control your weight and blood pressure, and avoid smoking. These simple things will keep your eyes healthy. And your mother was right. Eat those green leafy vegetables. Recent studies suggest that lutein and zeaxanthin (the nutrients in spinach, kale, and brussel sprouts) may protect against cataract and macular degeneration. If you have macular degeneration, you should talk to your doctor about taking a special formulation of eye vitamins.

Question 6: Are there any new developments or medical treatments for the eye.

How about a vaccine to protect your vision? The Centers for Disease Control has recently recommended that everyone over the age of 60 receive the herpes zoster vaccine. Herpes zoster is reactivation of the chicken pox virus and it causes shingles, a rash which can lead to a debilitating pain syndrome. A person has 20-30 percent risk of developing shingles in their lifetime. Of those people who get shingles, up to a third develop serious vision threatening problems. The vaccine significantly reduces the risk of disease, has very little side effects, and the people who still get the disease develop a much milder form.

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About Dr. Jackie Koo:
Dr. Jackie Koo is a board certified ophthalmologist in private practice at Peninsula Eye Physicians and Surgeons, one of the largest and oldest ophthalmology practices on the Peninsula. She has also lectured regularly at UCSF, CPMC, St. Francis Hospital, and national eye meetings as well as appeared on local television. She is also a new mom to a 5 month old. Dr. Koo is speaking to the Northern California Chapter of Prevent Blindness on May 28th at the St. Francis Yacht Club. The organization that uses its funds and volunteers to screen children for vision problems.

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