Although many diseases of the eyes are hereditary, there are steps one can take to delay or prevent a number of these conditions. I find it surprising that we can to some degree control our eye health. This is because the eye is vulnerable to the same destructive conditions as are other organs in the body.
Anyone can get Glaucoma, but if you are over age 60 and/or have a family history of this eye disease, you are at higher risk. The key here is to have eye exams every one to two years, so the disease can be caught early before it does permanent damage. With the use of drugs (mostly in the form of eye drops), laser treatment and surgery, glaucoma can be controlled and the incidence of blindness dramatically decreased.
The most common type of glaucoma is open angle or chronic. This condition gives no symptoms in its early stages yet can be detected by eye examination, and if not treated, can cause blindness, as in the case of Kirby Puckett. Narrow angle or acute glaucoma is another type, occurring suddenly at any age. It occurs mostly in far-sighted people, and can be successfully treated with Laser surgery if found early. Certain drugs can make this disorder worse. I hesitate to recommend the use of decongestants in any form for this reason. Glaucoma in itself is a valid reason to have a regular eye examination.
People with diabetes are at increased risk for eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts. Diabetics should have an eye examination at least once a year.
Another major eye disease is Macular Degeneration. Higher incidence of this disease occurs in older patients, smokers, females, Caucasians, and those with a family history. A recent study found that certain vitamins might decrease the risk of this disease or even help patients who already have it.
Although cataracts can occur at any age, most occur after age 60. Cataract surgery is brief, painless, and very effective with extremely small risk. There is no reason not to have cataract surgery, and the surgeon can correct vision defects at the same time. If a person lives long enough, cataracts will probably occur. When performing cataract surgery, the surgeon inserts a “plastic” lens, called an intraocular lens.
The same measures that lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and hypertension apply to diseases of the eyes.
• Not smoking
• Limiting alcohol consumption
• Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption
• Getting regular physical exercise
• Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol
• Minimizing exposure to ultraviolet light (sunlight, tanning booths). Be sure to always wear good sunglasses and a hat that shelters your eyes from the sun.
The most frequent patient complaint to eye doctors is that of dry eyes, often referred to as Dry Eye Syndrome. Symptoms include dryness, grittiness, itchy eyes, burning, watering and difficulty reading for long periods of time. Dry eyes can be caused by several conditions, from diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, asthma, thyroid disease, or inflammation of the eye lid margins called Blepharitis, to excessive computer or television use, Lasik surgery (or any kind of eye surgery), age, hormonal changes, excessive consumption of coffee, smoking, contact lenses, air-conditioning or heat. Moreover, some medications such as blood pressure drugs, antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics, eye drops that “get the red out,” antihistamines, birth control pills, appetite suppressants, and ulcer medications can cause this condition. Most products for this condition, often called artificial tears, are available without prescription.
Several vitamins and minerals have been studied in the prevention of eye disease. They are vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, and the minerals selenium and zinc. Lutein, an antioxidant plant chemical related to Vitamin A, was found to help lessen the risk for macular degeneration and other diseases of the retina. Lutein is contained in fruits such as oranges, and dark leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli as well as in lettuce, carrots and celery. As an added benefit, the results of a recent study showed that lutein might lower the risk of colon cancer as well as increase cognitive skills. No clinical studies have been done as yet however. Nutritionists recommend obtaining lutein in food instead of supplements, but many experts are recommending both, the average dose being 6-30 milligrams daily (we take 20mg.) Ask your ophthalmologist.
I am a registered pharmacist who has always been highly interested in good health, and who utilizes current knowledge and experience to achieve that objective. I believe this includes exercise, sensible eating, social interaction, and striving to keep your mental capacity. I’m not a specialist in any of these fields, but in my pharmacy career I have learned a lot. I worked in my family-owned drugstore for many years, and interacted with a variety of people and many different maladies, picking up invaluable hints and easy treatments of everyday medical issues. I want to share some of these with you, to perhaps make a difference in solving and preventing health problems. If I learned anything along the way, it’s that I can advise you when and if you should seek medical help. I also plan to share some recipes of mine that contribute to healthy eating. I am convinced that the old adage “you are what you eat” still reigns true. I’ve enjoyed my work all these years, especially counseling patients and hope that you derive some knowledge and comfort from what I have learned.