As a community ophthalmologist, I meet many people with different eye problems. Most of them can be easily treated with simple behavioral changes and awareness of available eye health services. This requires concerted efforts to encourage people to take utmost care of their eyes on priority.
For this, the approach must be community- and age-group oriented. As nutritional needs are different for different communities, so is eye health care. Therefore, specific services and interventions are needed based on age group, gender, occupation, location, etc.
Causes and Symptoms of Eye Problems in Children
Let’s start with the children who are the future visionaries of a country. In disadvantaged communities, vitamin A deficiency is very common, which can lead to a syndrome of eye problems ranging from early reversible symptoms like night blindness to complete vision loss due to corneal melting. If detected at an early stage, it can be easily treated with simply recommended doses of vitamin A supplements in consultation with eye specialists and by incorporating readily available green leafy vegetables into the regular diet.
The second most common eye health problem is refractive error in school children. Common complaints are eye rubbing, irritable behavior, headaches, or poor school performance. Parents should be warned not to ignore such behavior and should take their child for screening for this problem every year. If proper refractive corrections are not provided at an early age, amblyopia can set in and they may never get full vision.
Third, eye injuries in children are also very common when playing. They should not be allowed to play near sharp objects or bushes. And each time there is a trauma, the consultation of an ophthalmologist is essential.
How to protect the eyes at work
Certain professions have an increased risk of eye injury, such as those involved in grinding bricks, blacksmiths, glass cutters, etc., often accompanied by a complaint of a piece of iron, glass or wood embedded in the cornea. And glassblowers and welders often come with the complaint of a sudden and painful decrease in vision. The incidence of these occupational hazards can be minimized by wearing recommended eye protection or PPE (personal protective equipment).
For such complaints, a consultation with an ophthalmologist should be carried out immediately. Additionally, any injury caused by plant twigs or animal tails should be seen immediately as it can often cause a fungal infection of the cornea which, if ignored, progresses rapidly and can lead to permanent blindness. Truckers should visit eye clinics for regular eye exams every year, not only for their distance vision correction, but also to be screened for any defects in their field of vision.
Eye health and gadget use
In an age of increasing use of digital devices/gadgets, their prolonged exposure leads to increased incidence of dry eye and eye strain even among younger generations. These include exposure to heat radiation from digital devices, reduced blink rate, and inappropriate level of digital screen placement relative to eye level. Common symptoms are gritty feeling, burning and eye fatigue, especially after waking up.
Good habits to keep your eyes healthy
1. Compliance with the prescribed power of the glasses is essential and must be reassessed each year. It takes about two weeks to adjust to the new prescription and so regular users should be encouraged
2. Take 10 minutes to take a break every 50 minutes using a digital screen or near work.
3. Palming: It is a yoga technique in which the palms are first rubbed against each other and then placed for 2 minutes over the closed eyes. Repeated 10-15 times two or three times a day.
4. Avoid direct exposure to air conditioning airflow while sitting or lying down.
5. Figure of 8 exercises: Roll your eyes as you draw an imaginary figure of 8 on a wall in front of you. A simple up and down eye movement can also be performed.
6. Prolonged concentration results in reduced blink rate (normal blink rate is 15 blinks per minute) Practicing blinking every 5 seconds for 2 minutes helps reduce eye strain.
7. Digital devices such as laptops should be kept at an angulation of 10-15 degrees for a comfortable head and neck posture, and the brightness should be the same as that of the surroundings.
8. Pencil push-ups: This exercise especially benefits school-going teenagers, especially those who study for long hours. A pencil is held at arm’s length and its tip is focused on a single image. Slowly move the pencil towards your nose, keeping the tip focused, when a double image is seen, move it away again. This is repeated 10 times three times a day. This exercise should never be done if you are already tired.
9. 20-20-20 rule: in which, every 20 minutes, look away from the screen at a wall 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
10. Anti-Reflective Coating (ARC) on Glasses: ARC glasses can be used to reduce the effect of radiation from digital devices and thus reduce its harmful effects.
Anyone over the age of 50 should have an eye exam to screen for age-related cataracts. You should know that cataract is a process of aging of the lens and not a disease and can only be treated surgically.
The eye is a window on the body. Anyone with diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease should have a basic eye and retinal exam as soon as they are diagnosed with these diseases and should have their eyes checked annually or as advised by ophthalmologists. Anyone with a history of genetic conditions like myopia and retinitis pigmentosa in the family should have themselves and their offspring’s eyes checked to rule out genetic eye disease.
Incorporating these simple, healthy behaviors into your daily life can help improve your eye health.
On World Sight Day, let’s make a resolution for your vision and see the difference it makes.
“All the power in the universe already belongs to us. It was we who put our hands in front of our eyes and shouted that it was dark.” –Swami Vivekananda
About the Author: Dr. Farnaz Kauser is Ophthalmologist (Fellow) with Sightsavers India. All views/opinions expressed in the article are by the author.