April Showers Bring May (and More) Allergies

Spring has arrived! The birds are chirping, the days are getting longer, and suddenly you’re experiencing itchy and watery eyes. Seasonal allergies affect an estimated 50 million people in the United States, making the spring season a little (or a lot) less pleasant for many Americans. Up to 30 percent of adults and up to 40 percent of children report having problems with seasonal allergies. That’s no small amount of people with itchy eyes and runny noses!

Spring is what comes to mind when most people think of seasonal allergies, but allergies are not limited to April, May, and June alone. Seasonal allergies can be a disruption almost any time of year, depending on what causes your allergies and where you live. Learning how to cope with seasonal allergies and treat the symptoms can improve your daily life and make nice weather more enjoyable.

How do you combat seasonal allergies? There are some tips you can use to fight seasonal allergies. First, know what triggers them. You’re not going to frolic in a field of goldenrod if you know that it causes an allergic reaction. Ask your physician if he or she can help you narrow down what is causing your discomfort.

The most common seasonal allergens are grass, pollen, and mold. For an allergy sufferer, avoiding these allergens is the first approach to minimize symptoms. It can be difficult to avoid them, however, because they are very common in most parts of the country. Unless you’re able to move somewhere without allergens (or maybe you can live in a bubble), you’ll have to consider some additional options.

Make sure to protect your eyes. Sunglasses can help keep pollen and allergens from entering the eye to an extent, but they also minimize strain on your eyes that can be worsened during allergy season. Protection can also come in the form of wearing a protective mask while doing things like gardening or yard work.

If you must go outside to work or exercise, try to do it early in the morning or later in the evening. These are times when pollen counts are typically lower than during the middle hours of the day. Also, check pollen counts. Many weather apps and sites offer pollen counts as a way to inform allergy sufferers of the worst days for allergies, and other days when it might not be so bad.

Talk to your doctor about an over-the-counter remedy. Not a lot of people report mowing the lawn as their favorite thing to do, but gardening can be very satisfying, and a fun way to get dirty, make your yard more beautiful, or even save money by growing your own food. Seasonal allergies make rustling around in the weeds nearly impossible, however. No one wants to spend their time in nature rubbing their eyes! Your physician can give you advice on medical treatments for allergies and medication that may be available to help you keep your routine and pursue your hobbies without too much disruption.

On days when the pollen count is high, sufferers may choose to stay inside. Itchy eyes can be painful, making it difficult to accomplish everyday tasks like working on a computer screen, watching TV, or even just focusing on small details for a prolonged period of time. With many people working behind a computer for their job, just imagine the productivity that could be gained if eye-related allergies were eliminated! Thankfully, you can help keep indoor air quality clear so you can live comfortably and get your work done indoors. Simply try an air purifier. They help to reduce allergens from the air, and keep those pesky particles out of your nose and eyes. Also, make sure the air filters on your heating and cooling units are changed or cleaned regularly. Special filters exist for allergy sufferers, and they can help improve indoor air quality when changed regularly.

In addition to cleaning the air, wash the dog, your hair, and your clothes. Pollen and other allergens can easily stick to clothes, pets, and even you. A regular wash will prevent allergens from sticking around this allergy season.

The best way to combat the change in seasons is to avoid the allergen as much as possible, refrain from itching your eyes, and use artificial tears to wash away airborne allergens when necessary. Talk to your physician and eye care professional if seasonal allergies are getting in your way.

Healthy Vision is More than 20/20

Taking care of your eyes includes more than going to a yearly exam and wearing an up-to-date prescription. Although both are certainly important, there are many more things you can (and should) do to make sure you’re preventing eye problems and protecting your vision.

Diet and nutrition play an important role in the long-term health of your eyes. Certain vitamins and minerals have proven necessary for good vision while also protecting against eye diseases. A diet high in dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard greens provides us with lutein, bioflavonoids, and beta-carotene. Omega-3 fatty acids are great for those who suffer from dry eyes. Omega-3s can be found in fish, fish oil supplements, flaxseed, and walnuts. Vitamin A, C, D, E and zinc can be consumed through foods such as eggs, sweet peppers, milk, almonds, and beef. Consumption of these foods high in vitamins may reduce the risk of macular degeneration, cataracts, blindness, and dry eyes, among others.

Full-body physical exams are also important. Physicals check for diabetes and high blood pressure. These conditions can lead to diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and ocular hypertension if left untreated.

Shielding your eyes from the sun is important, but many people believe it is just the tint of sunglasses that offers protection. In actuality it’s the UV-blocking abilities of sunglasses that guard your eyes from damage. Make sure that your eyewear is dark enough to keep you from squinting into the sun when you’re outdoors, but also check that your glasses have a UV coating. Some sunglasses have an inexpensive UV coating that rubs off over time, so your best bet is to purchase a reputable brand that offers a durable coating or is manufactured into the lens itself and will block 99–100% of UVA and UVB rays.

The number of people in the United States who smoke has been declining for several years, and now just 18% of people in the US smoke. Unfortunately, smoking still accounts for 480,000 deaths each year, and smoking increases several risk factors for poor eye health. Smoking doubles your chance of developing cataracts, a clouding of the eye that is the leading cause of blindness. Also, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) causes blind spots and impairs vision, and smokers have a three-fold increase in their risk of developing AMD. So quitting smoking is crucial for your overall health, but also to protect your eyesight.

Most people know that they should be getting twenty minutes of exercise three times a week, but eye health is yet another reason that you should get moving. Regular exercise is linked to retina health. Plus, sufficient exercise along with a balanced diet can help prevent other medical conditions that put your eyes at risk.

Aside from these things, being aware of your family’s health history is another big factor in eye health. Your physician and eye care professionals can help you check for symptoms that may be signs of known health problems common to your family, and can suggest prevention tips as well as early intervention if you discover there is a problem.

If you notice any changes in your vision—things like haziness, cloudiness, double vision, difficulty seeing at night—see your doctor right away. A healthy lifestyle, regular checkups, knowing your risk factors, and basic protective measures will help you keep your eyesight clear for as long as possible.

Children and Computer Vision Syndrome

People are always touting the benefits and the risks of social media, video games, television, and other screen activities. It’s common to hear about someone giving up social media for a period of time just to see if they are able to kick what they consider an ‘addiction.’ New Year’s resolutions are often to read more and spend less time at a computer or on a smartphone. These may seem like grown-up problems, but adults and teens aren’t the only demographics spending a large part of their daily routine behind a screen. Children barely old enough to move a mouse are using computers and devices for recreation and learning every day.

In 2009, kids in grades 7–12 reported spending an average of more than 90 minutes a day just sending or receiving texts on cell phones. In 2011, 50% of children under eight-years-old reported having access to a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet. Children under two watch 53 minutes a day of television.

Should all screen time and computer usage be cause for concern? Not quite. Consider this: studies have found that children who use a computer at school and at home perform better on tests of school readiness, visual motor skills, gross motor, and cognitive development. This positive effect seems to diminish if you look at children’s screen time beyond physician-recommended daily limits, however. Excessive screen time does not help children learn, and overuse has been shown to put children at risk for vision problems.

Children aged 8–18 reported in 2009 that they spent more than seven hours a day devoted to “entertainment media” including computers and video games. That makes screen time a full-time job! Pediatric eye doctors are warning parents that this sort of heavy screen time is putting children at risk for early nearsightedness, among other possible issues.

According to the National Eye Institute, over the past 30 years the prevalence of nearsightedness has increased from 25 percent to over 41 percent. This is an increase of more than 66 percent. No one can be certain if this increase is caused by screen time, but many professionals are concerned that there may be a connection.

The longer children are exposed to a computer screen, the greater their risk is for developing computer vision syndrome. Computer vision syndrome is the term used to describe problems associated with focusing on an electronic display for excessive, uninterrupted amounts of time. The risk is increased because children’s eyes are not as well-developed as adults. It’s easier for children to experience these problems because they often lose track of time, are assigned lots of homework to do on the computer, or may not realize that they should be taking frequent breaks. Additionally, children are notorious for sitting very close to screens even if they have perfect vision—a position that strains the eyes and the rest of the body.

Parents should pay careful attention to how long a child spends with electronics. Set limits and help them develop good habits for how to use their devices. Talk to your eye care professional to discuss your child’s media habits and determine if you should change how they interact with electronics for optimal eye health.

The Importance of Pediatric Eye Exams

When it comes to pediatric care, parents are usually concerned with finding the best pediatrician and following their medical advice exactly, but what about pediatric eye care? Eye care for kids is sometimes an area parents overlook because they aren’t always aware of the importance of eye health for children. Many don’t seek eye exams for their children until either the child reports having difficulty seeing at school, or the child’s grades begin to slip and parents take a closer look at why their child isn’t developing academically.

Experts recommend that children receive several eye exams before starting school. Infants should receive their first comprehensive eye exam around six months of age. Children should have an eye exam around age three, and again when they reach age five or six. Before reaching first grade, parents are strongly encouraged to have their children receive a full eye exam to make sure the child has no visual problems as they start elementary school.

Eye exams for young children are important because vision problems can negatively affect a child’s performance in school long before you are aware of the issue. The American Optometric Association reports that 5 to 10 percent of preschoolers and 25 percent of school-age children are diagnosed with vision problems once they receive proper eye care. Experts are always stressing the significance of appropriate early education and full participation from youngsters in programs and learning that will become a foundation for critical skills. Children risk not being able to fully participate if they are experiencing undiagnosed visual impairments. An early eye exam and regular eye care for children can alleviate this potential problem.

Identifying eye problems early is crucial to the child’s learning and development in school. A child with poor vision may have difficulty with seeing text and comprehending words causing difficulty in reading. No parent wants their child to be frustrated with reading, especially when most vision problems are easily fixed with glasses. Unable to explain problems in a group, children may choose not to volunteer for reading in class out of embarrassment, or opt out of picking a library book because it’s hard to see. This will negatively affect academic achievement and the enjoyment that comes with reading for many children.

Other symptoms of learning-related vision problems include headaches or eyestrain, short attention span for visual tasks, difficulty identifying or reproducing shapes, poor hand-eye coordination, and developmental delay. Talk to your family eye care professional about scheduling eye care visits for your children. They will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about your child’s eye health, and let you know when is a good time to start doing regular check-ups.

Blue Light in Focus: Are Your Eyes at Risk?

More and more patients are asking about how blue light may be affecting their health. With stories about blue light exposure and possible risks frequently in the news, it’s important to understand what high energy blue light is and why you should protect your eyes.

What is High Energy Blue Light?
Blue light is simply part of the spectrum of light that we can see. The “high-energy” part of blue light refers to the intensity and is based on where it falls on the spectrum. Daylight is high in this type of light, and it’s what wakes us up when we rise in the morning as we experience sunlight. Blue light is crucial for our processing of color, and in the right balance it can be good for our health to set our circadian clock and sleep/wake cycles.

Most patients have heard about blue light because media articles frequently highlight certain kinds of blue light as causing sleep disturbances. Americans are notoriously bad sleepers, with many vices and personal habits that can interfere with getting a full night’s rest. Increased exposure to blue light and especially screen time with electronic devices at night are purportedly the biggest offenders.

When are We Exposed?
The reality is that blue light comes from many sources. The largest source of high-energy blue light is the sun, and electronic screens and indoor CFL/LED lighting emit a fraction of what the sun emits. Still, with more light sources relying on blue light for intensity and clarity, it leaves people wondering if they should opt for eyewear that reflects some of the higher energy rays.

Most people are aware that we have to protect our eyes from bright sunlight because it can cause eye problems as we age. The issue with blue light exposure is that high-energy blue light alone doesn’t make us uncomfortable like glaring sunlight does, so few people opt for special glasses to be protected.

How do I Reduce My Risk?
The good news is that there are options for people who would like to block or filter some of the high-energy blue light waves that are linked to eye health problems. Blue light blocking lenses or blue-reflecting lens treatments may help you with other problems, like eye fatigue and sleep disturbances, but the main concern is updating your eyewear and your habits to help lower your risk for cataracts and macular degeneration.

Talk to us if you have questions about what products we carry, and how your everyday eyewear can ensure your eyes are comfortable and protected!

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