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Eye' didn't know that: 5 leading misconceptions about eye health

Created date

August 12th, 2009

Which of these foods is better for your eyes? The answer might surprise you! (File photos; illustration by Gerry Fey) Of all five senses sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing people usually say sight is the most important. "It s the number one sense people say they would not want to lose," says Lori L. Grover, O.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. "However, most people have not had an eye exam in the last couple of years."

If people value their sight so much, why do they miss their regular eye exams? To be sure you re seeing clearly, the Erickson Tribune asked the experts to discuss the most common misconceptions about eye health. Five are listed here.

Misconception 1: ' As you age, eye exams ' are less important.

Eye exams are absolutely critical for people age 65 and above. "A routine eye exam each year is as important as a routine physical," says Grover. "That way, if there s a problem, you can find it as early as possible.The director of the Visual Rehabilitation and Research Center at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Lylas Mogk, M.D., explains the benefits of regular exams. "If you find glaucoma early, it s very treatable," she says. "If you don t find it early, you could eventually lose your vision. A checkup also allows the doctor to see macular degeneration before you are aware of it."

Macular degeneration causes cells in the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail, to die. As a leading cause of vision loss in Americans age 60 and above, it can eventually destroy your sharp, central vision.

Experts emphasize routine, comprehensive exams which include having your eyes dilated. "You need a comprehensive eye exam to search for problems anywhere in the eye or in the rest of the body. You can t really know if the visual system is in good shape unless you dilate the eye and look at the whole picture," Grover says.

Misconception 2: ' Reading under dim light and sitting too close to the television cause eye damage.

The truth is these behaviors can cause eye strain, but they do not cause damage. However, someone who is age 60 does require three times more light to read than someone who is age 20, according to the Merck Manual.

"When you are younger, you can read with any light," says Mogk. "As you get older and lose contrast sensitivity, light starts making a big difference. If you are having trouble reading something, check the light. The more precise the task, the more light you need. A gooseneck lamp pointing right at your task or material is a huge help."

Grover adds, "Needing additional light can also be a sign of changes in the visual system, so be sure to discuss this with your eye doctor."

Misconception 3: ' The sun does not damage your eyes.

Without proper protection, prolonged exposure to the sun s ultraviolet (UV) rays and short wavelength light (violet and blue light) can contribute to a variety of eye conditions, including cataracts (clouding in the lens of the eye) and macular degeneration. More than half of all Americans 65 or older have some evidence of cataracts, the most common cause of reversible vision loss among older people.

To protect your eyes from the sun, Mogk suggests you wear amber-colored lenses. "The brown, orange, and amber lens colors are more protective. Plus, they are nice for older adults because the amber family of colors increases contrast. A dark sunglass lens cuts glare and light. An amber lens will cut glare but keep the light for you to see."

Misconception 4: ' Carrots are the best food ' for your eyes.

The American Optometric Association finds carrots contain nutritional value because they supply provitamin A (beta-carotene), which is essential for night vision. However, spinach and other dark, leafy greens prove to be the healthiest foods for eyes because they contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which may protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.

"Kale, collard greens, and spinach are best. The darker the leaves, the better. The lutein in the vegetables protects the leaves from sun damage and is also beneficial for your eyes," says Mogk.

Eating foods rich in essential fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin E, and the mineral zinc also help protect your vision, according to the American Optometric Association.

Misconception 5: ' If you have vision loss, there is nothing you can do about it.

"There may not be any surgery or drugs that will reverse your vision loss, but there s always something that can be done to help you function better and have more independence with less than perfect vision. The key is making sure you are examined by an eye doctor who practices low vision rehabilitation," says Grover.

Mogk says it s important to know there are many strategies and devices to help manage daily affairs, despite any vision loss. An ophthalmologist or optometrist who specializes in vision rehabilitation can prescribe devices that may be helpful, including magnifiers, telescopes, or devices that enlarge reading materials. He or she can also refer you for individualized rehabilitation with an occupational therapist or other rehabilitation professional.

"The key is understanding the full scope of the visual impairment and the treatment that can help," says Grover.

For more misperceptions about eye health, visit the Healthy Living blog