The fact may come as a surprise to some, but according to the Philippine Eye Disease Study, which was published in 2018, there are about 4 million Filipinos who are living with undiagnosed eye problems. The same study also says that we have some 1.1 million diagnosed cases of vision impairment in the form of cataract, errors of refraction, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.
Eye health is so neglected that people sometimes delay going to the eye doctor even when they experience early signs of deteriorating vision. The reality is that like any other part of the body, the eyes require active health management. Dr. Noel Chua, Chairman of the National Committee for Sight Preservation (NCSP) and former Director of the St. Luke’s Eye Institute Q.C. and Global, says that there are some things we need to do regularly to maintain a lifetime of healthy vision, and they are fairly easy to accomplish:
- Visit your eye doctor regularly. A yearly visit to an ophthalmologist can be a part of your annual physical exam (APE) that is covered by your HMO. Typically, an eye doctor will conduct a refraction test to assess your vision. They can also do a dilated eye exam to check the health of your optic nerve and the retina, and spot signs of diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Dr. Chua recommends a quick and immediate visit if you are experiencing eye pain, fatigue, blurring vision, itching, or light sensitivity.
2. If you work a lot in front of the computer, take screen breaks. Working on multiple screens — computer monitors, phones, television, or a tablet — makes us prone to eye strain. Research from The Vision Council says that 59% of people who use screens a lot show symptoms of digital eye strain, characterized by dry eyes, redness, twitching, and headaches.
People blink 15 to 20 times per minute on average, but focused work in front of a computer causes us to blink less and our eyes get dry and irritated. The popular 20-20-20 rule can reduce the strain by having breaks every 20 minutes, looking at objects 20 feet away and for at least 20 seconds.
3. Eat healthily and watch your diet. Yes, carrots are good for the eyes, and so are green leafy vegetables, fruits, and nuts, which contain a host of nutrients necessary to both strengthen and protect the eyes.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are macular pigments that block blue light from reaching the underlying structures of your retina and are found to reduce the risk of certain eye diseases like cataract. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, essential fatty acids like Omega-3, and Zinc are necessary for both holistic health and the generation of eye pigments.
Eating a balanced diet also reduces the risk of metabolic disorders like diabetes, known to cause vision loss (diabetic retinopathy) over time.
4. Physically protect your eyes. An eye hazard is any material or situation that can cause injury to the eye whether through heat or impact. Use the correct safety glasses, shields, or goggles when exposed to daily occupational hazards like projectiles (dust, concrete, and other particles), chemicals, or UV light to protect the eyes.
While some hazards cause immediate and painful damage, others cause damage over time. Whatever the case may be, a work safety protocol that calls for eye protection should not be ignored.
5. Stop smoking. The risk of smoking comes not just from the smoke that gets into your eyes. Smoking causes oxidative stress or an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. If there are more free radicals than antioxidants, they start damaging tissues and proteins (yes, including eye proteins). If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
Active eye health management is pretty much like running on the treadmill every other day to maintain cardiorespiratory fitness. ‘’Management’’ happens daily, and periodic checks are necessary to keep your engine running smoothly and to spot potential problems.
The National Committee for Sight Preservation (NCSP) in partnership with Novartis Philippines Collaboration to Preserve Sight project facilitated the recently launched online eye care resource called Maging MATAlino which aims to promote good eye health habits and sight preservation practices. Those who want to learn more about eye care can follow the page and get guidance from ophthalmologists like Dr. Chua.
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