Healthy Eyes and Awareness

How we can be our own advocate against eye diseases

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Photo by v2osk on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I had a scare. I woke up from a nap and I couldn’t see out of my right eye. Still groggy and disoriented from my afternoon snooze it took a few before fear grabbed me. I closed both eyes and listened ever so deeply. Opening my eyes again, this time very slowly to understand what was happening. My vision was very blurry but I could see.

For the next few days I laid rather low and saw fewer clients. My eyes where hot and extra tired. I needed to close them frequently. Naps became synonymous with breathing.

With much more thoughtful time on my hands, I began to reminisce. My maternal grandfather had a long history of eye issues. He had glaucoma, cataracts and age related macular degeneration.

As a child, I didn’t understand the magnitude of his eye diseases. I never thought much of why we traveled so frequently to Wills Eye Hospital in Philly. I thought this was the normal thing most kids did with their grandparents.

I also never really put two and two together, how my grandfather often asked me to drive with him on errands. I rode shotgun. He used my eyes to navigate.

“Carrie Mae?”

“Yes, Grandpa?”

“How many cars do you see coming from the right? And how many houses are they away from you and me?”

I never thought this type of conversation was risky or unusual. I just assumed he was including me in the car ride for company. Somehow, I felt rather special.

Maybe another decade had passed. My memory is fuzzy at best but we were in church on a hot Sunday morning. The stained-glass windows were propped open the width of a pray book. That’s when I noticed my grandfather’s tears running straight through my heart. His hymnal was upside down however his words were sung from the memory of his heart.

He was going blind. Eventually he did.

As I pieced my thoughts together, I can see how hindsight is 20/20. What happened to me just a few short weeks ago was eye opening in a practical sense but also in a larger field — what do I really need to ‘see’ here?

These sorts of memories started to flood my head with a feeling of too much followed with what if this happens to me? And the eye health of my own parents, and their siblings became a jump start for me to investigate what-can-I-do now to help prevent and mitigate my eye health and pass it along to others.

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Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

Cataracts

As of now I do have the beginning stages of cataracts. This is rather common as we age.

According to Mayo Clinic, “most cataracts develop when aging or injury changes the tissue that makes up your eye’s lens. Some inherited genetic disorders that cause other health problems can increase your risk of cataracts. Cataracts can also be caused by other eye conditions, past eye surgery or medical conditions such as diabetes. Long-term use of steroid medications, too, can cause cataracts to develop.”

Some of the risk factors for cataracts are:

· Increasing age

· Diabetes

· Excessive exposure to sunlight

· Smoking

· Obesity

· High blood pressure

· Previous eye injury or inflammation

· Previous eye surgery

· Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications

· Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol

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Photo by Dose Juice on Unsplash

Although there is no way to prevent cataracts, ophthalmologist/optometrist suggest:

· Eating a well-balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables.

· Wearing sunglasses that block ultraviolet B rays

· Having regular eye exams

· Quit smoking

· Reduce excessive alcohol

· Follow your treatment plan if you have diabetes & high blood pressure

And when necessary, surgically removing the cataracts.

Glaucoma

Remembering the litany of eye drops both of my grandparents used, I decided I needed to know about what causes Glaucoma and what can be done for it.

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Source: All About Eye Vision

“In brief, [there’s an] eye fluid imbalance. Glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve due to increased pressure in the eye. The increased pressure can be due to increased fluid production or decreased drainage. Sometimes the reason for the increased pressure is not known. People over the age of 40, with diabetes, eye injury or eye surgery are at increased risk of glaucoma. Glaucoma is also more common among African Americans.” (HealthTap)

Eye drops are usually the first suggested practice to lower and control the intraocular eye pressure and if that doesn’t help, then surgery. Here are some of the prescribed eye drops: Prostaglandins, Beta-blockers, Alpha-adrenergic agonists, Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, Parasympathomimetics, Epinephrine, and Hyperosmotic agents. For many patients there’s a combination of these medications. (All About Vision)

What is Age Related Macular Degeneration?

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Photo by Claire Rodahaver on Unsplash

“[Age Related] Macular Degeneration (AMG) is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans — more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. At present, AMG is considered an incurable eye disease. AMG is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the inside back layer of the eye that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The retina’s central portion, known as the macula, is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, and it controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail.” (AMFD)

There are two forms of AMG: “dry” and “wet”. “Approximately 85% to 90% of the cases of Macular Degeneration are the “dry” (atrophic) type, while the rest are the “wet” (exudative) type. There is one form of macular degeneration, called “Stargardt” disease which is found in younger people who have a recessive gene. (AMFD)

It appears the largest risk factor is aging, especially 55 years and older. Other risk factors include a family history, being Caucasian, people who smoke, as well as those with light colored eyes because there’s less pigment in blue eyes and therefore more light enters and reaches the optical nerve.

There are no known cures for macular degeneration, however preventative measures are highly suggested. Such as wearing UVB preventing sunglasses, and Blue Light blocking computer screen-reading glasses to reduce eyestrain.

In 2001, The National Institute of Health, conducted The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) which concluded, “daily high doses of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and the minerals zinc and copper — called the AREDS formulation — can help slow the progression to advanced AMD. The American Academy of Ophthalmology now recommends use of the AREDS formulation to reduce the risk of advanced AMD.” (NEI/NIH)

But there was a significant finding that the beta-carotene in this combination was a high risk for lung cancer in smokers.

A second, 5-year study was conducted by NEI and now there’s a new formula available called, AREDS 2, manufactured as PreserVision AREDS 2 Formula, Bausch & Lomb.

With my research, family history, as well as my excessive use of a laptop and at times my phone, and my need to be in nature and having blue eyes, I’ve decided it’s time to be more proactive and protective with my eye health.

Here’s what I’ve added to my daily routine.

1. Eating more leafy greens, especially spinach and adding more fruits to my daily diet.

2. I’ve purchased two pairs of blue light block computer and reading glasses. I’ve already noticed a difference. My eyes are less tired and I’m sleeping better. Total win-win.

3. After researching Age Related Macular Degeneration, I’ve decided to start using PreserVision ARED 2. The best price I could find was at Costco at about .17 per pill.

4. And to continue with yearly eye exams to keep monitoring my early stages of cataracts, testing eye pressure for glaucoma and eye scans for macular degeneration.

Resources:

American Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMFD). https://www.macular.org/about-macular-degeneration

AREDS2 Research Group. “Lutein/Zeaxanthin and Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Age-Related Macular Degeneration. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Controlled Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA, published online May 5, 2013.

AREDS2 Research Group. “Lutein/Zeaxanthin for the Treatment of Age-Related Cataract.” JAMA Ophthalmology, published online May 5, 2013.

Haddrill, Marilyn and Slonim, Charles, MD. https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/glaucoma-3-treatment.htm

HealthTap, https://www.healthtap.com/user_questions/15721-why-does-pressure-rise-in-the-eye-to-cause-glaucoma

Mayo Clinic: Cataracts, symptoms and causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cataracts/symptoms-causes/syc-20353790

National Eye Institute. https://nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/

Carolyn Riker is a poet, writer and author. She has two books of poetry: Blue Clouds and This is Love. In addition to writing, she has a private practice as a highly sensitive mental health therapist. If you would like to read more of her words, follow her on Facebook at Carolyn Riker, MA, LMHC.

Dreamer. Poet. HSP. Empath. Licensed MH Therapist. 3 books published. 3X Top Writer. Love espressos & my chunky cat. www.carolynriker.com

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