National Eye Health Week takes place from 21st to 27th September 2020
This document has been put together by the BAME Vision Committee.
Vision is the sense people fear losing the most, yet many of us don’t know how to look after our eyes – National Eye Health Week aims to change all that to help promote the importance of good eye health and the need for regular testing.
Diet, Nutrition and Hydration
The food we eat has a huge impact on our eyesight. However, a recent survey revealed that 60% of people living in the UK have no idea about the link between a good diet and healthy eyesight . The vitamins and minerals found in fruit, vegetables and other wholesome foods can help protect our sight and keep our eyes healthy.
Natural foods that are really beneficial to eye health are generally those that are colourful in appearance and contain carotenoids which are essential for healthy eyes. Fruits such as oranges, blueberries, grapes, mango, and vegetables such as sweetcorn, carrots, butternut squash, red peppers and – most importantly – green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale are foods that are all really rich in carotenoids and act as antioxidants which are nature’s way of getting rid of harmful cells and help keep our eyes healthy.
Carotenoids also may help reduce the discomfort from glare and help to enhance visual contrasts which supports our eyes ability to distinguish between colours and shapes. Soy is also known to be very beneficial for good eye health as it contains vitamin E and other essential natural anti-inflammatory agents. All of the above foods , and many others, including eggs, and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna all naturally contain essential nutrients that are beneficial to healthy eyes.
Drinking plenty of water every day is also essential for healthy eyes as they can easily become dehydrated which is severely harmful to eyes. Dehydration and distorted vision are often closely related. This happens because when we are dehydrated our eyes become dry and sore which causes eye strain which in turn leads to blurred vision which is often followed by vision headaches or migraine. When we drink water we are also adding oxygen to our brain and eyes and we all know we can’t survive without oxygen. So it is really important to make drinking plenty of water part of a daily routine for good eye health. The Food Standards Agency recommends that we drink approximately 1.2 litres (6-8 glasses) of water every day and more if exercising or if the weather is hot.
According to evidence from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London our eyes need oxygen to stay healthy and comfortable. There is growing scientific evidence that aerobic exercise can increase oxygen to the optic nerve and lower pressure in the eye. Reducing this pressure can help control conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and glaucoma.
Lack of exercise is said to contribute significantly to several eye conditions especially to those over 60 years old. Exercise is known to reduce hardening or narrowing of the arteries and which in turn reduces the risk of diabetes and high cholesterol all conditions which may negatively affect good eye health.
Exercise does not have to mean going to the gym or running a marathon. Simply 30 minutes brisk ( or two lots of 15 minutes) walking at least five times a week will help with good eye health. Brisk walks, swimming, cycling, jogging, yoga, pilates and dancing or any form of activity that elevates the heart rate for short periods of time will all help to reduce pressure in the eyes.
Alcohol is a diuretic which causes dehydration. This is due to the excessive loss of fluid either through the passing of urine more frequently or through sweating. As stated previously dehydration is not good for eye health. In addition alcohol also raises blood sugar levels which leads to blurred vision as it causes the eye’s lens to swell which reduces the ability to see. It can take up to 24 hours, with no more alcohol consumed, for blood sugar levels and vision to return to normal.
If we drink too much alcohol our blood pressure rises which in turn increases the possibility of hypertensive retinopathy which causes damage to the tiny delicate vessels that supply blood to the eye’s retina, the area at the back of the eye that allows us to focus on images. The higher the blood pressure and the longer it has been elevated, the higher the risk of the damage. This condition may gradually improve if steps are taken to consistently lower blood pressure.
Excessive drinking of alcohol, even for a short period of time, will interfere with our liver’s ability to function properly because it reduces the levels of glutathione which is an efficient antioxidant that can help protect against common eye disease. Heavy consumption of alcohol may increase the risk of AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/age-related-macular-degeneration-amd/
Advice from the Department of Health recommends that men should not drink more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol per day and that women should not drink more than 2 units per day.
Smoking has been said to have a close association with strong or malignant hypertensive retinopathy (which causes damage to the tiny delicate vessels that supply blood to the eye’s retina, the area at the back of the eye that allows us to focus on images) due to elevated blood pressure levels.
Smokers are far more likely to develop AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration) which is the most common cause of sight-loss in the UK, and cataracts.
We should never look directly at the sun as this can lead to irreversible damage to eyes or even blindness. There are studies that show that sunlight exposure can be a risk factor related to those who develop cataracts (see below).
Excessive exposure to the sun’s UV rays can lead to a sunburn-like condition called photokeratitis. This can be extremely painful and make your eyes red, swollen and watery. The symptoms of this condition are an inflammation of the outer layer of the cornea, which typically occurs after 6 – 12 hours exposure and will normally clear up quickly causing no permanent damage to the eye.
Unfortunately the damaging effect of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun accumulate over a number of years so that by the time we are 18 we will already have been exposed to too much UV rays. For this reason it is never too early to start protecting our children’s eyes.
The general advice is, if possible wear a wide brimmed hat/ sunglasses that can help protect your eyes from the harmful UV rays of the sun. Wear dark glasses, they need not be expensive. Ensure sunglasses filter AT LEAST 99 per cent of UVA and UVB light and look out for the Look for sunglasses glasses carrying the CE mark or the British Standard BS EN ISO 12312-1:2013, which ensures they offer a safe level of ultraviolet protection.
Cataracts occur when the lens, a small transparent disc inside your eye, develops cloudy patches.
As we get older, they start to become frosted, like bathroom glass, and begin to limit our vision.
Over time these patches usually become bigger causing blurry, misty vision and eventually. It may be recommended to wear glasses or contacts with stronger lenses. But unfortunately cataracts will become worse and surgery is the only way to treat them. Thankfully, cataract surgery is one of the most common and straightforward operations, usually done as day surgery with no need to stay overnight in hospital.
There are three known types of cataracts
Nuclear cataract – The most common type, usually caused by ageing.
Cortical cataract Forms in the lens cortex that surrounds the nucleus of the eye.
Subcapsular cataract – Forms at the back of the lens, and can be caused by diabetes and other factors.
Eye Tests & Vouchers
A sight test can detect early signs of conditions like glaucoma which can be treated if found soon enough. During a sight test other conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure may be detected. For most people it is recommended that you should have an eye test every two years.
Free Eye tests – are available In England, Northern Ireland and Wales for eligible people eg
- Aged under 16
- Aged 16 – 18 and In full time education
- Claiming Benefit such as Universal Credit
- On a low income
- Claiming Tax credits
In Scotland eye examinations are free for everyone.
If test results show that you do need glasses or contact lenses, then the NHS gives Optical Vouchers for those eligible.
Visit the Vision Matters website for more information http://www.visionmatters.org.uk/sight-tests/eligibility-and-vouchers
Or contact your healthcare advisor
Eye Health During the Pandemic
It is important to attend eye appointments whether it’s a routine, regular or follow up appointment, or for an injection, or if you are in need of emergency advice. You should attend unless you have been advised otherwise or, of course if you are showing symptoms of coronavirus.
For advice on preparing for an appointment please follow this link to a video from the RNIB https://www.rnib.org.uk/sight-loss-advice/eye-health/eye-health-and-appointments-during-coronavirus
Where three Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs) offer their advice and tips on what you can expect
You can also download a transcript of the video
The following is taken directly from the RNIB website
Staff at hospitals and eye clinics are usually available to provide information and reassurance if you have any queries. Call them directly ahead of time; if no-one is available to take your call immediately, some may have recorded information available or leave a voicemail to request a call back. If you can’t make your appointment, always let your clinician, or ECLO, know so they can reschedule it and offer the time to other patients.
Eye care in England
Routine eye examinations were suspended in England when lockdown began in March 2020 but were restarted on 15 June 2020 in England only (there are different arrangements in place in the rest of the UK). Read about the precautions that opticians and optometrists have put in place to protect patients and staff from coronavirus.
Eye care in Scotland
If you live in Scotland, find out about the newly-created Emergency Eye Care Treatment Centres.
Eye care in Wales
Dr Gwyn William, Consultant Ophthalmologist, explains what is happening with eye care appointments across Wales due to coronavirus.
Sight Advice FAQ
Sight Advice FAQ, the website which answers common questions about living with sight loss, has information for on eye health and medical needs during coronavirus