Take good care of your eyes

by Karen Bowen

As a professional driver, taking care of your eyes is essential. Regular eye check-ups can help you stay on top of any deterioration in your sight. They can also discover unusual conditions that may affect your eye health itself, such as cataracts.

A cataract is a clouding of the clear lens of your eye. Looking through an affected lens is like looking through a frosty or foggy window. The severity of the cataract determines just how much you can see. Cataracts develop slowly. When they begin to develop, they don’t initially affect your eyesight.

But as the lens becomes cloudier, your vision increasingly gets worse. At the beginning, better lighting and prescription glasses will help you get along, but as the condition progresses, you may need to have the cataract removed just to maintain your regular lifestyle. Fortunately, getting a cataract removed is usually safe.

As a cataract develops, the cloudiness may only affect a small part of the lens. However, as it grows, it affects a larger portion of the lens. The increasing cloudiness distorts the light passing through the lens more and more, eventually causing blurred or distorted vision.

A cataract may or may not affect the entire lens. Although cataracts can develop in both eyes or independently, usually they develop in parallel in both eyes.

Since cataracts are usually not painful, you may not even know you have them.

Some common signs and symptoms of cataracts are: clouded, blurred or dim vision; deteriorating night vision; halos around lights (especially at night); sensitivity to light and glare; fading or yellowing of colours; double vision in one eye; a need for brighter light when doing finer activities (reading, working with small tools); and a frequent need to have your eye glass prescription renewed. You may find that you blink more often to clear your vision.

Certainly, when these symptoms occur, your driving will be adversely affected. Time to see an eye doctor! Because even if you are experiencing these symptoms, when you look at your eyes in the mirror, you probably don’t notice anything unusual.

Usual eye complaints, such as pain, itching, redness, aching, irritation or an eye discharge, don’t usually happen with cataracts.

In fact, cataracts don’t really affect your eye in those ways at all. However, if the cataracts become completely white and opaque (overripe cataract) it may cause pain, inflammation and a headache. Definitely, if a cataract causes discomfort, it must be removed.

A person may get cataracts for a variety of reasons. Aging is considered the main cause, although what actually happens to the lens of the eye during the aging process is unclear. It may be that the lens becomes less flexible and the protein fibers within the lens itself begin to clump together.

Or, free-radical damage may be the cause. Smoking and UV exposure may also play a part in their development, along with general wear and tear.

In addition to the regular aging process, the following increase your risk for getting cataracts: diabetes; a previous eye injury or inflammation; previous eye surgery; a family history of cataracts; prolonged use of corticosteroids; exposure to radiation; too much exposure to light; and/or smoking.

In fact, 75% of North Americans who are 65 years old have some amount of clouding in their lenses. By the age of 75, 70% will have severe enough cataracts to significantly reduce their ability to see.

If you have cataracts now, but it’s not time yet to have them removed, you can deal with the symptoms in the following ways:

Keep your eye glass prescription up to date. Use a magnifying glass to read. Make your reading areas brighter by using stronger light bulbs. Wear sunglasses when you’re outside or driving to reduce glare. Limit your night driving.

These steps will help for a while, but once a cataract has formed, if will continue to develop. Surgery is the only way to eliminate them.

If you don’t have cataracts forming yet, here are some ways to reduce your chance of getting them. Don’t smoke. Smoking causes free-radicals which damage your eyes. Eat well, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Protect your eyes from the sun. Use sunglasses that block UV rays. Manage your overall health. Follow your doctor’s treatment plan for any ongoing health conditions.

Then, if you do ever have to have cataract surgery, your body will heal well.

If you do end up having cataract surgery -replacing your cloudy lens with a clear one, rest assured -your vision should remain constant after the surgery. As well, the new lens should remain clear. If it doesn’t, only laser treatment and not surgery will be necessary to fix it up.

As a professional driver, your good eye health protects you and the thousands sharing your roads. It’s nothing to wink at.

-Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant , and she can be reached at karen_ bowen@yahoo.com.

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