Contact Lens Pollution

Every year, Americans flush 2.6 to 2.9 billion contact lenses down the drain according to research from Arizona State University.  There's been a lot of research done on single-use plastics such as straws, silverware and plastic bags but no one has yet looked at how these everyday medical devices may contribute to pollution in our soil and waterways.

The calculation of how many lenses end up in our waste water, plants and habitat hinge on a variety of data sources.  The CDC states that about 45 million Americans wear contact lenses.  By using data from the major contact lens manufacturers about the various types of contacts purchased (daily, biweekly, monthly) the ASU researchers were able to calculate that Americans wear a total of 13.2 to 14.7 billion lenses a year.  Next the researchers surveyed more than 400 contact lens users about how they dispose of the products, finding that 21 percent discard their lenses down the toilet or sink.  Those cumulative numbers helped them arrive at their estimate of more than 2.5 billion lenses residing within our sewage in a given year.  Once sewage laden with contact lens fragments is pumped into soil it may seep into the environment in different ways.  Rain could wash lenses into rivers and oceans where they would float like tiny, tentacle-less jellyfish.  Or they could sit in soil, desiccating in the sun.  The latter scenario in not harmless either.  Once these lenses dry they become incredibly brittle and will very likely shatter into very small particles.  Then these micro-plastics can persist in the environment and they can be consumed by animals, birds or insects and make their way into the food chain.

Although contact lens pollution is a concern, it is dwarfed by the 8 million metric tons of larger plastic that clogs our oceans every year.  There's an easy way to prevent contact lenses from becoming pollutants say the ASU researchers and that is by throwing them in the solid waste compartment of the house- the garbage can is preferable to the sink or the toilet.

(Excepted from Scientific American 8/2018)

Manage Digital Eye Strain

According to the Vision Council 87.7% of people 18-39 years old use digital devices for more than two hours per day, 82.6% ages 40-59, 76.3% ages 60 and up and 72% of Americans report their children/teens younger than 18 use digital devices more than two hours per day.  Digital devices are not going away.  Luckily the ophthalmic industries are responding by developing new products to help to reduce the various aspects of digital eye strain.

Blue light is at the highest energy, shorter wavelength end of the visual spectrum.  It flickers more and decreases contrast, thus reducing clarity.  Blue light comes largely from sunlight, but is also emitted through fluorescent lights, LED lights, LED TV's, computer monitors, tablets and smart phones.  While the exposure from monitors, tablets and phones is small compared to the sun, blue light emitting devices are in close proximity to the eyes and blue light contributes to digital eye strain. Research shows that changes in the light environment lead to changes in circadian rhythms that, in turn, influence sleep and contribute to alterations in mood and cognitive function.  Other studies have also reported that exposure to digital devices at bedtime could negatively affect sleep and circadian rhythm. 

As a result, we recommend lenses that filter out blue light for our patients who frequently use screens and together with a premium anti-glare option and a proper refraction our patients notice instant improvement in symptoms as these lenses help to improve contrast and clarity and decrease glare.

Excerpted from Optometric Management, August 2018

Eye Healthy Eating

A nutrient rich diet can contribute to tip-top eye and vision health.  Carotenoids, the colorful pigments in fruits and vegetables, are powerful antioxidants that protect against cellular damage and when combined with other essential vitamins and nutrients provide health benefits vital for aging eyes.

Vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids all play important roles in reducing the risks for certain eye diseases.  The NEI AREDS2 study found that increased antioxidant vitamin intake reduced advanced age-related macular degeneration risk by 25% and reduced vision loss by 19%.  Other recent studies showed that higher vitamin C and E intake lowered overall cataract risk and progression.

For ocular nutrition, the more fruit and veggies and the more raw or non-prepared the better.  Fill your plate with a rainbow of foods with carotenoids suggest Dr. Jennifer Carver.  Dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach and collards have lutein, which is important for good macular function.  Carrots and pumpkin are great sources of beta carotene and vitamin C too.  Swap fatty meats for lean protein such as salmon.  It's loaded with eye-rich nutrients, including zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.  Zinc plays an essential role in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, the protective pigment in the eyes.

(Excerpted from AOA Focus March 2018)

Test Your Knowledge!

How much do you know about your eyes? Take this quiz to find out!

  1. The most common eye color in the world is:

    1. Green

    2. Blue

    3. Brown

    4. Hazel

  2. True or False: Pregnancy can affect your eyesight

  3. True or False: The sun can damage your eyes

  4. True or False: Eye makeup can cause eye infections

  5. What percentage of people will eventually need reading glasses?

    1. 20%

    2. 50%

    3. 75%

    4. 99%

  6. True or False: In a pinch. cleaning your contact lenses with water is a good idea

  7. True or False: We see things upside down and our brain corrects the image.

  8. True or False: Two eyes are necessary for depth perception.

  9. How many colors can the human eye see?

    1. 3

    2. 256

    3. 24 million

    4. 2 trillion

  10. True or False: Having “20/20” vision means you have perfect eyesight.

 

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ANSWERS

  1. The most common eye color in the world is BROWN. 55% of the world’s population have brown eyes

  2. Pregnancy can affect your eyesight. TRUE. Blurred vision and dry eyes are sometime experienced during pregnancy, but these symptoms are usually temporary.

  3. The sun can damage your eyes. TRUE. Exposure to UV rays can lead to cataracts and other conditions. Use sunglasses whenever possible.

  4. Eye makeup can cause eye infections. TRUE. Bacteria can thrive in creamy or liquid eye makeup. Throw away eye makeup after three months

  5. What percentage of people will eventually need reading glasses? 99% As we get older, the lenses in our eyes will lose the ability to focus. Therefore almost all of us will need vision correction at some point in our lives.

  6. In a pinch. cleaning your contact lenses with water is a good idea. FALSENever clean your contact lenses with water, as this can lead to serious eye infections.

  7. We see things upside down and our brain corrects the image. TRUE. The corneas of our eyes are curved. When light enters our eyes, it is refracted and creates an upside down image on the retina

  8. Two eyes are necessary for depth perception. TRUE. We need two eyes to help us estimate the size and distance of objects.

  9. How many colors can the human eye see? 3. Our eyes can only see red, blue, and green. All other colors are combinations of these.)

  10. Having “20/20” vision means you have perfect eyesight. FALSE. It just means you can see 20 feet in front of you.

HOW DID YOU DO?

All 10 correct -- An eye expert!
8 - 9 -- Very good!
5 - 7 -- Not bad.
4 or less -- A little short sighted...

March is Save Your Vision Month

During March we take time to remind Americans of the importance of eye health and comprehensive eye examinations.  Eye health and vision care must be viewed as a national priority according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).  In their report NASEM stated that vision is tied to the health of this nation.  The report estimated 142 million Americans over age 40 experience vision problems.  Between 8.2 and 15.9 million people have a correctable visual disability attributable to uncorrected refractive error.  Research bears out the importance of healthy vision to children, so they can learn and develop to their full potential in life, and to adults, who are more productive at work and more socially engaged with the world around them.  Spread the word and remind people to get their eyes examined!

Blue Light Impact in Children

Light emitted by the sun and personal electric devices contain significant amounts of high-energy, short-wavelength blue light.  Ultraviolet (UV) light contains more energy than blue light but is it absorbed by the cornea and lens thus limiting retinal exposure.  Visible blue light may potentially be harmful to the retina after extended exposure.  Children may be at a higher risk for blue light retinal damage than adults because the juvenile lens absorbs less short-wavelength light than the adult lens allowing more blue light to reach a child's retina. After a life time of exposure the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration is increased.  At this time, the long term consequences of blue light exposure in children is not well understood.  All children should have sun protection in the form of dark sunglasses that filter UV light to reduce any risk of retinal and eye damage.


Although the light emitted by personal electronic devices is not bright enough to damage the retina it is able to alter the circadian rhythms that affect sleep and degrade sleep quality and impair alertness the following day.  Therefore, it is recommended to limit the use of personal electronic devices before bedtime especially in children.

(excerpted from Winter 2017 Eye on New Jersey)

Young Children and Electronic Devices

The average child between the ages of 0 and 8 spend about 58 minutes daily watching television and 48 minutes daily engaging with a mobile device in the US.  Since electronic devices are not going away the key is to use them in moderation.  While the TV watching time is down by 11 minutes a day compared to 6 years ago in that age group the average screen time for mobile devices is up by 43 minutes daily.

In a survey, "The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight 2017" other noteworthy findings include:

  • 49% of parents report their kids watch TV, videos or play video games in the hour prior to bedtime and have these devices in their rooms despite a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that advise against it.
  • 67% of parents believe their children learn from screen media though they are concerned about the violence, sexual content and advertising their children see.
  • 43% of children under two are not read to on a daily basis despite a contrary recommendation from the AAP that they should be read to from infancy.

"The results are grounds for concern", says Dr. Glen Steele, a professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee.  "It is a significant concern that device use is increasing so rapidly.  The use of mobile devices requires more sophisticated visual function to participate.

The young visual system is not prepared for this type of sustained activity but it is socially compulsive; all their friends are doing it.  When they force themselves on through the discomfort, secondary vision problems are created particularly in focusing.  We do know that visually, the child must defocus in gaming.  This potentially reduces the child's ability to sustain near-focus activities, such as reading when they are younger."

Prolonged smartphone use also has been linked to dry eye underscoring the need for routine comprehensive eye examinations on a yearly basis.  Doctors of Optometry and parents have a role in monitoring use and supporting children's visual development.  Doctors can inform parents about the "20/20/20 rule"; take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away.  Looking at screens for long periods of time, causing near-point stress can lead to headaches, blurriness, and eyestrain and can distract children from the typical visual development needed for traditional classroom activities.

Children's Eye Care Report

An estimated 1 in 5 preschool children have vision problems and 1 in 4 school-age children wear corrective eye wear in this country.  Because eye and vision problems in children have become a significant public health concern the American Optometric Association has released new guidelines for pediatric eye care.  The new guideline is designed to increase awareness of the importance of checking children's eye health at all ages.  It is important to educate patients and their caregivers about eye health and the importance of frequent exams. Early detection and prevention are key because the visual system is developing in early childhood.  There is no substitute for an in-person comprehensive eye exam that can lead to prevention or a timely diagnosis and treatment.  If you can catch certain eye conditions and diseases early in the course of their lives, you can really change children's lives.  If a child isn't functioning well visually, it can impact his or her performance in school and impact his or her behavior, future goals and even the kind of work he or she will do as an adult.

Early Diagnosis Can Improve Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Outcomes

Managing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a significant focus for primary care optometrists.  With an early diagnosis, OD's can take potentially life-altering steps long before patients hit the intermediate stage and are forced to struggle with vision loss.  The longer clinicians can keep patients from advancing to wet AMD and needing injections, the better off they will be.

In a recent study, subjects with impaired dark adaptation were twice as likely to develop clinically evident AMD and eight times as likely to advance beyond the earliest stage of AMD.  Usually expressed as "night vision difficulties" impaired dark adaptation is often among the first detectable consequences of AMD and a method of identifying patients with potential sub clinical disease.

Many changes to an AMD patient's lifestyle can help avoid further central vision loss and retinal damage.  Once diagnosed with early AMD, optometrists can encourage patients to take the following steps:

  1. More frequent examinations.  Moving from a 12 to a six-month follow-up interval is useful for monitoring disease progression.
  2. Stay healthy.  Following a healthy diet, exercising regularly and maintaining overall health are sound goals for all patients.  One study found that women who followed a healthy diet, engaged in physical exercise, and avoided smoking had a substantially lower risk of early AMD compared with women who did not follow these healthy lifestyles. A Mediterranean diet is another consideration, as studies suggest those who consume a Mediterranean-style diet carry an overall lower risk of developing advanced AMD compared with those who regularly consume a traditional Western diet.
  3. Advocate for an active lifestyle.
  4. Recommend supplements and blue light-blocking lenses.
  5. Timely referral to a retinal specialist.  

With an earlier diagnosis, optometrists can do more than let AMD run its course and eventually rob patients of their sight.

Excerpted from Dr. Jeffry Gerson, OD Review of Optometry September 2017