Looking after our eyesight
Posted on 15 December 2016
It’s normal for our eyes to change over time but it’s important to separate fact from fiction when it comes to vision.
Spectacles have become fashion statements and lifestyle accessories but that doesn’t change the fact that we need them to see. Our eyes change over time, says Dr Jeshal Patel, an ophthalmologist at Mediclinic Brits. ‘When we’re younger, the lens of the eye is soft and flexible. The tiny muscles inside the eye can easily reshape it to see objects at different distances. With age, the lens becomes more rigid and the surrounding muscles lose their elasticity, making it more difficult to focus close up,’ he explains.
- Excess screen time and reading in dim light or darkness will damage your eyesight.
FALSE Hours of screen time and using your phone or watching TV in low light or darkness won’t damage your eyes, but could make them feel gritty and tired or cause a headache.
To reduce eye strain, take a 20-second break roughly every 20 minutes by looking into the distance. This relaxes the eye muscles and stimulates blinking, which aids lubrication. Maintain an arm’s length distance from the screen and avoid slouching over it. When using your cellphone, hold it as far away from your eyes as comfortably possible.
Similarly, reading in low light won’t affect vision but can strain the eyes. Use a reading light that shines directly onto the screen or page and not over your shoulder.
- Spectacles are better than contact lenses as you grow older.
FALSE ‘Your eyes might get drier or develop minor problems as you age, but there’s absolutely no problem wearing contact lenses, as long as they’re properly prescribed,’ says Dr Patel. ‘Compared to specs, contact lenses may be a little more difficult to maintain, but not annoyingly so.’
Choosing between glasses and contact lenses is therefore purely personal. Spectacles may be preferable if you’re uncomfortable putting a foreign object in your eye. On the other hand, contact lenses are more practical if you live an active lifestyle where glasses might fog up, slide off or get in the way.
- Eating carrots or delaying getting specs will stop your eyesight from deteriorating.
FALSE Contrary to your granny’s advice, carrots won’t improve your eyesight as you grow older, although they do contain a small amount of vitamin A, which is good for your eyes. Similarly, your eyes won’t weaken from wearing corrective lenses, although your prescription may change as you age.
- Lasik surgery can be performed more than once as you age.
PARTIALLY TRUE Age alone isn’t a big factor in deciding whether to have refractive eye surgery. Even though Lasik (laser in-situ keratomileusis) surgery can be repeated, if you have the procedure in your 40s, you will still need reading specs within the next 10 years. If you’re looking for a surgical solution for presbyopia (age-related farsightedness), one eye can be corrected for distance vision and the other for closer work. But most people can’t adjust to having one eye that’s blurry all the time. There’s also the option of multifocal Lasik (presbyLasik) – advanced laser vision correction surgery that changes the shape of the cornea to create different power zones for seeing at varying distances.
A comprehensive dilated eye exam is the best way to detect diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration which can cause vision loss or blindness. Many of these conditions have no symptoms in the early stages.
‘I recommend screenings from the age of 45, which should be repeated every five years or sooner if indicated. If there is a family history of eye disease, an exam should be performed earlier,’ says Dr Patel.
Regular tests go a long way in helping you to see well for the rest of your life, but there is more you can do: Maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle, don’t smoke, use protective eyewear if your job necessitates it and wear sunglasses and a hat when you’re in the sun.
Words Nicci Botha