This month the docs tackle your questions about eye health.
Q: Is it true that carrots are good for your vision? Are there other foods or lifestyle changes that can improve eye health?
A: When it comes to your eyes, Popeye trumps Bugs Bunny. Beta-carotene, found in carrots, does seem to play a role in protecting your vision, but the idea that carrots can improve your night vision is a myth that can be traced to World War II. The Allies had developed radar to aid in nighttime bombing raids but didn’t want the Germans to steal it, so they put out the story that pilots were being fed oodles and oodles of carrots to develop superhuman night vision.
In reality, other foods and nutrients are even better for your eyes—lutein and zeaxanthin, the nutrients in spinach and other leafy greens, protect healthy eye cells and reduce your risk for cataracts and macular degeneration. The essential fatty acid DHA is helpful, too, protecting eyes against dry eye syndrome, macular degeneration and potentially even glaucoma.
But while a healthy, plant-rich diet is great for your eyes (and so many other things!), it’s likely that the best things you can do are to protect your peepers from the sun (more on that later) and refrain from smoking, which increases your risk for all the vision problems mentioned above.
Q: So many people I know have gotten—and loved the results of—Lasik surgery, but I’m scared of it. What are the pros and cons?
A: Lasik surgery is an elective procedure that involves slicing a flap of the eye’s surface with a laser to correct nearsightedness or farsightedness. Not too jazzed about a procedure that puts “eye” and “slice” in the same sentence? You aren’t alone. But depending on your eye troubles, finances (Lasik isn’t always covered by insurance and runs around $4,000) and comfort with potential complications, Lasik could be a good move.
The pros: More than 90 percent of Lasik patients achieve between 20/20 and 20/40 vision. It’s also fast—between 15 and 30 minutes—and you’ll probably be able to do your normal activities (including driving!) by the next day. And over time, surgeons are becoming more experienced and achieving better results with fewer side effects, so the statistics are improving.
The cons: 20/40 isn’t perfect—and that’s the best that many Lasik patients achieve, so there’s a chance you’ll still need glasses, although the lenses will be much thinner than your old pair. One percent of eyes come out worse than 20/40. And approximately 20 percent of Lasik patients experience side effects such as impaired night vision, halos or dry eye in the first few months after the procedure. In rare cases, these effects never fully dissipate. So if you aren’t a bit of a risk taker, Lasik may not be for you.
Q: I’m colorblind. Does that mean I’m at a higher risk for vision loss down the line? Are there any other health risks I should be aware of?
A: Other than memorizing which bulb in a traffic light is red and which is green (the red bulb is always the one on top; the green, the one on the bottom), you’ve got little to worry about, healthwise. (Your fashion decisions might be a different story.)
In 99 percent of cases, colorblindness is an inherited condition, and in the other 1 percent, it’s caused by injury to the eye. It’s more common in men than in women, and it varies in severity—most people with colorblindness can see everything except green and red, although the rarest and most severe type limits vision to shades of gray or black. Whatever the case, being colorblind doesn’t put you at any greater risk for other vision or health problems.
Q: How can you tell if you have pinkeye and not just irritation or an allergy?
A: Technically, “pinkeye” describes conjunctivitis, which is the swelling of the tissue that lines the eye and eyelid—and can be caused by allergies, viral or bacterial infections, chemical exposure or dry eyes. So red, itchy eyes caused by irritation or allergies are technically pinkeye, but we know that you’re probably referring to the type caused by an infection.
The tricky thing is that the symptoms of the various types of conjunctivitis are almost indistinguishable—redness, inflammation, tenderness, itching, burning, blurred vision, tearing up and clear or white excretions. But if you notice greenish discharge or experience fever, chills, pain or double vision, see a doctor quickly—to confirm whether you have an infection and, if it’s bacterial, to get antibiotic eyedrops. (You can’t treat a viral infection, but should stay home to avoid infecting others, as viral and bacterial pinkeye are both extremely contagious.)
If your symptoms are milder but last longer than two weeks, it’s also smart to see a doctor. Even if the irritation is being caused by something relatively benign, there’s no reason to suffer any longer, and it’s good to know for sure what’s happening.
Q: My desk at work is next to a very sunny window, and there’s a lot of glare. Should I be worried about sun damage to my eyes?
A: While you don’t need to panic, it’d be smart to take action. Windows block UVB light, the ultraviolet rays from the sun that account for most sunburns, but they do not block UVA, the rays that cause skin aging and contribute to your risk for skin cancer and eye damage.
If you have any control over the office decor, install blinds or a window shade to reduce the amount of light exposure. If you don’t, consider wearing sunglasses or, if you wear prescription lenses, asking your eye doctor about special UV coating that can be added to clear lenses. And don’t forget to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, even if you aren’t going outside.