Eye Health

Nutrition / Vitamins

Research has shown that nutrition can impact the development of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which are the two leading causes of visual impairment among aging Canadians. Nutrition may be particularly important given that currently, treatment options after diagnosis for these eye conditions are limited. Below are some informative articles relating to nutritional preventative vision care.

Common Vision Conditions

  • Macular Degeneration

    What is macular degeneration?

    The macula is the central most part of the retina that is responsible for detailed sharp vision. It is used for reading, driving, recognizing people's faces and fine work. Macular Degeneration is a condition that causes the centre of your vision to blur while the side or peripheral vision is unaffected. It is generally related to the aging process, and is also commonly referred to as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). It is the leading cause of visual impairment in North America in adults over the age of 55.

    What are the symptoms of Macular Degeneration?

    Initially, the most common symptom is slightly blurred vision when performing tasks that require seeing detail. A blurred spot or sense that there is dirt in the way of clear vision may develop. Over time, the blurred spot may increase in size and interfere with reading and recognizing faces. Wet AMD causes a straight line to look wavy or distorted, and dark spots may blank out portions of the central vision. There is no pain with AMD.

    Are there different forms?

    There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. The most common is the dry form. This is the milder form where there is a gradual degeneration of the tissue cells that make up the macula and symptoms generally develop slowly over time. The wet form is a severe leakage, or even bleeding, from weak blood vessels under the macula and symptoms progress rapidly. Wet AMD accounts for approximately 10 percent of all cases, but the dry form can develop into the wet form over time.

    Who is at risk of developing Macular Degeneration?

    The risk of developing AMD increases with age. High risk groups include smokers and people who have had extensive UV exposure. AMD is also associated with conditions such as high blood-pressure, arteriosclerosis, and those with a family history of AMD.

    How can I prevent Macular Degeneration?

    Lifelong UV protection and general nutrition are believed to play a key role in preventing AMD. Living a healthy lifestyle by keeping your blood pressure down, reducing your intake of fatty foods and not smoking are all recommended. A diet high in antioxidants such as beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A), vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin and selenium can also help prevent AMD (refer to the articles in the Nutrition / Vitamins section). Most of these antioxidants are found in fruits and leafy green vegetables. Regular eye examinations are also important in the early detection of AMD. Early stages of AMD may be found during an eye examination even if no symptoms are noticed. Your optometrist can discuss ways to minimize the possibility of vision loss due to AMD.

    Is there treatment for Macular Degeneration?

    Currently, dry AMD has no treatment. Many cases of wet AMD can be treated with Photodynamic Therapy (PDT). Early detection and prompt intervention are crucial to the success of PDT for wet AMD. Certain vitamins can assist in slowing down the progression of AMD. It is important to realize that the use of vitamins will not reverse any vision loss that has already occurred, nor will it stop the progression of AMD completely. Regular eye examinations and counselling from your optometrist will let you know of any new treatments that become available.

    Is there help available?

    Many patients with sight loss due to AMD can benefit from low vision aids. These aids will not restore sight to normal levels but they allow people to maximize their remaining vision. Your optometrist may also train you to use the Amsler grid, which is a tool that can assist in testing the progression of AMD.

    Download an Amsler Grid

  • Cataracts

    What is a cataract?

    When the normally clear lens within your eye becomes cloudy and opaque, it is called a cataract. Cataracts vary from extremely small areas of cloudiness to large opaque areas that cause a noticeable loss of vision.

    Who gets cataracts?

    Cataracts are most often found in persons over the age of 60, but they are also occasionally found in younger people, including newborns.

    What causes cataracts?

    No one knows exactly what causes cataracts. It is known that a chemical change occurs within your eye that causes the lens to become cloudy. This may be due to advancing age or it may be the result of heredity, an injury or a disease. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation present in sunlight, cigarette smoking or the use of certain medications are also risk factors for the development of cataracts. Cataracts usually develop in both eyes, but often at different rates.

    Can cataracts be prevented?

    Currently, there is no proven method to prevent cataracts from forming. Wearing sunglasses is a tremendous benefit as they protect your lens from harmful UV rays, which can speed up cataract formation. A diet rich in antioxidants (such as Vitamins A, C, E, Zinc Selenium & Magnesium) is seemingly also beneficial (refer to the articles in the Nutrition / Vitamins section).

    What are the signs / symptoms of cataracts?

    Cataracts develop without pain or redness, some indications that a cataract may be forming include blurred or hazy vision, the appearance of spots in front of the eyes, or the feeling of having a film over the eyes. A temporary improvement in near vision may also occur and increased sensitivity to glare, especially at night may be experienced.

    How are cataracts diagnosed?

    A comprehensive eye examination by your Optometrist can determine if you have a cataract forming.

    How are cataracts treated?

    In the early stages of a cataract, where vision is only minimally affected, your optometrist can prescribe new lenses for your glasses to give you the sharpest vision possible. When the cataracts start to interfere with your daily activities and glasses cannot improve this vision, your optometrist will refer you to an eye surgeon who may recommend the surgical removal of the cataracts.

    When will I need to have cataracts removed?

    Cataracts may develop slowly over many years or they may form rapidly in a matter of months. Some cataracts never progress to the point that they need to be removed. When a change in glasses can no longer provide functional vision, your optometrist will arrange a consultation with a cataract surgeon.

    What happens after cataract surgery?

    Intraocular lens implants, inserted in your eye at the time of surgery, serve as a "new lens" and sometimes give you good distance vision without glasses. Your near vision will still be blurred. Your Optometrist will prescribe new lenses for your glasses about 4 weeks after surgery to maximize your distance and near vision.

  • Diabetes and Your Eyes

    What is diabetes?

    Diabetes, simply stated, is a disease that prevents your body from making or using insulin which in turn leads to increased sugar levels in your bloodstream.

    How does diabetes affect the eye?

    Diabetes and its complications can affect many parts of the eye. Diabetes can cause changes in nearsightedness, farsightedness and premature presbyopia (the inability to focus on close objects). It can result in cataracts, glaucoma, paralysis of the nerves that control the eye muscles or pupil, and in decreased corneal sensitivity. Visual symptoms of diabetes include fluctuating or blurring of vision, occasional double vision, loss of visual field, and flashes and floaters within the eyes. Sometimes these early signs of diabetes are detected in a thorough optometric examination.

    What is diabetic retinopathy?

    Diabetic retinopathy occurs when there is a weakening or swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the retina of your eye, resulting in blood leakage, the growth of new blood vessels and other changes. If diabetic retinopathy is left untreated, permanent vision loss can result.

    Can vision loss from diabetes be prevented?

    Yes, in a routine eye examination, your optometrist can diagnose potential vision threatening changes in your eye that may be treated to prevent permanent vision loss. However, once damage has occurred, the effects are usually permanent. It is important to control your diabetes as much as possible to minimize your risk of developing retinopathy.

    How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

    In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy is monitored through eye health examinations.

    If necessary, it may be treated with laser therapy. A bright beam of light is focused on the retina, causing a burn which seals off leaking blood vessels. In other cases, surgery inside the eye may be necessary. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is crucial, as treatment is much more likely to be successful at an early stage.

    Are there risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy?

    Several factors that increase the risk of developing retinopathy include smoking, high blood pressure, drinking alcohol and pregnancy.

    How can diabetes-related eye problems be prevented?

    Monitor and maintain control of your diabetes. See your physician regularly and follow instructions about diet, exercise and medication. See your optometrist, for a thorough eye examination when you are first diagnosed as a diabetic, at least annually thereafter and more frequently if recommended.

  • Glaucoma

    What is glaucoma?

    Glaucoma is an eye disease in which it is thought the internal pressure of your eye rises to a point that the optic nerve is damaged. The pressure that builds up is due to a problem in the production, flow or drainage of fluid normally produced in your eye. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of permanent vision loss in Canada.

    What causes glaucoma?

    The exact cause of glaucoma is not known. For some reason, there is an overproduction of fluid and / or the passages that normally allow fluid within your eye to drain out become clogged or blocked. This results in fluid building up within your eye and increasing pressure on the optic nerve. The nerve fibers and blood vessels in the optic nerve can easily be damaged by this pressure. An injury, infection or tumor in or around the eye can also cause the pressure to rise.

    Who gets glaucoma?

    Glaucoma most frequently occurs in individuals over the age of 40 and there is a hereditary tendency for the development of the disease in some families. Primary open-angle glaucoma causes damage at an earlier age and leads to vision loss at a much greater rate. There is also a greater risk of developing glaucoma when you have diabetes, high blood pressure and eye injuries. Regular optometric examinations are important for all ages to assess your risk for glaucoma.

    Why is glaucoma harmful to vision?

    The optic nerve, at the back of the eye, carries visual information to the brain. As the fibers that make up the optic nerve are damaged, the amount and quality of information sent to the brain decreases and a loss of vision occurs.

    Will I go blind from glaucoma?

    If diagnosed at an early stage, glaucoma can be controlled and little or no further vision loss should occur. If left untreated, side awareness (peripheral vision), followed by central vision will be lost leading to significant permanent vision loss.

    How can I tell if I have glaucoma?

    Primary open-angle glaucoma often develops painlessly and gradually. There are no early warning signs. It can gradually diminish your vision without you knowing it. Acute angle-closure glaucoma may have symptoms such as nausea, eye pain, red eyes, blurred vision and haloes around lights.

    How is glaucoma detected?

    A comprehensive ocular health examination is often the only way to detect glaucoma. You visual acuity can remain a sharp 20/20 in the beginning stages of this condition. Your optometrist will include in your examination a simple and painless procedure called tonometry, which measures the internal pressure of your eye. Your optometrist will also look into your eye to observe the health of the optic nerve.

    How is glaucoma treated?

    Treatment via eye drops is typically the first treatment. Surgery is sometimes used in combination to help maintain your remaining vision. Once vision is lost due to glaucoma, it cannot be restored. This is why regular preventive eye exams are so important.

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