WHAT was the first thing you clapped eyes on this morning? Your partner still asleep in the bed beside you? The cat pawing at your face, demanding its morning Whiskas?
Simply the sun (or, more likely, the rain) streaming through the curtains? If you saw anything at all, think yourself lucky. By the age of 65, one in six of us will be blind, or at the very least struggling with poor vision.
In fact, it is thought that, unless drastic action is taken, 2.45 million Britons will have lost their eyesight by 2020. At least half could have prevented it through early intervention.
Yet, while one survey found that, if people were forced to choose, they would rather lose their sense of taste, hearing, one of their limbs or even ten years off their life than their eyesight, another revealed that few of us are doing anything about it. Forty per cent have not seen an optician for at least two years, and most believe there’s no need to bother unless we need glasses or have symptoms we’re worried about.“People think, ‘What can I do about it? It’s not like brushing your teeth,’” says Malcolm McPherson, of the College of Optometrists,
“A lot of people just accept it’s something that happens, but we are becoming more aware that the eye is part of the body and that, if the rest of the body is healthy, the eye will be likely to stay healthy as well.”
And, like so many other areas of general health, one of the easiest ways to ensure we keep seeing the world around us is through a good diet. That thing your granny told you about eating carrots helping you see in the dark? It’s true. At least in part. Carrots (as well as foods such as milk, cheese, eggsand liver) are rich in vitamin A, one of the nutrients that help good vision.
Lutein is also an essential nutrient for eye health, and is found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale. Opticians recommend eating as many as two to four servings a day. And, if you can’t get enough in your diet (let’s face it, four portions of spinach would push even the most vigilant veggie-lover over the edge), supplements are available for a top-up.
Earlier this year, The British Journal of Nutrition also examined zeaxanthin, which is thought to reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, and found spirulina, an algae usually taken in powder form with drinks, is a rich source of the chemical. So stock up on that next time you’re at the health food shop.
The risks of developing a disease like macular degeneration, explains McPherson, increase with age and family history – neither of which you can do much about – as well as smoking and diet – which you can. “Exposure to UV light can make it worse as well, and can also be a contributing factor to cataracts,” he adds.
The stopping smoking part is fairly straightforward, while diet remains slightly more controversial. But, with increasingly advanced eye tests, early warning signs can be picked up sooner than ever and taking a supplement can slow deterioration. “In Scotland, the General Ophthalmic Services contract, which we work to, was improved dramatically in 2006 and was amended in 2010 to be a much more comprehensive eye-health examination than it is in the rest of the UK, the idea being that you pick things up earlier.”
That means your optician can identify warning signs long before you have the faintest idea anything’s wrong.
If you’re not seeing things clearly, don’t just put up with it. “Distortion in vision – not just a blurring, but things becoming a little twisted – that’s a key symptom of problems with the macula. But people shouldn’t leave anything that’s affecting their eyesight. You would be surprised, you get people coming along saying, ‘This eye’s a bit blurry – I’ve had it for six months.’ A lot of people just hope it’s going to sort itself out. Think about your overall health,” says McPherson. “Your eyes need to be looked after just as the rest of the body does.”
Still, if the worst comes to the worst, you can take heart in the knowledge that a revolutionary new eye implant could restore sight – albeit in black and white – to the blind without the use of bottle-bottom glasses or enormous pieces of computer equipment. The ‘bio retina’ would be implanted and enable users to do everyday tasks like watching television and picking out faces. Trials are due to begin next year.
Intended for patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts, Nano-Retina claims its “simple 30-minute implant procedure requires local anaesthesia, a small incision and ‘glueing’ of the device to the damaged retina. Return of sight is anticipated to be instantaneous.”
It certainly sounds miraculous. But wouldn’t you rather see things through your own eyes?
• Have an eye test every two years. This can pick up not just problems with eyesight but other health issues such as diabetes and hypertension
• Make sure you have enough light when reading or working
• Cut down on smoking
• Eat a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables
• If you wear contact lenses always look after them as described by your optician
• Wear UV-protective sunglasses, even on a cloudy day, to protect eyes from damage from harmful rays
• Limit your alcohol intake and drink plenty of water
• If you have glasses, wear them; you won’t strengthen your eyes by going without – you’ll just strain them
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west