Don’t Blame The French Fries!

bowl of french fries

Last month a story came out of England about a teenager who went blind from eating only junk food. I found this very interesting and bookmarked the article so I could blog about it when I had the time. Well oopsie, September passed by in a blur and the email I had saved with the link to the article got buried in my inbox until yesterday when in a frantic attempt to organize my life by starting with my work emails I encountered the article I had saved. After doing a little research on the story I was glad I waited to share the information because the initial story that most of the media outlets shared left out certain details that misrepresented the real lesson to be learned from this young man’s tragic vision loss.

The basic story is that a teenager in the UK whose diet consisted of Pringles, white bread, french fries and occasionally some ham lost his eyesight to a condition called nutritional optic neuropathy which like it sounds, develops due to the lack of the proper nutrients that the eyes need in order to function. Many of the articles used this story as a cautionary tale, admonishing junk food eaters and parents of picky eaters that this is what could happen if you don’t eat a healthy diet. Turns out the young man who went blind was not a “picky eater” but rather , he had an eating disorder called ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) which led to various nutritional illnesses. The media however jumped on the bandwagon of the evils of junk food and fad diets instead of using the story as an opportunity to bring awareness to the importance of detecting mental health disorders in children and teenagers. Does poor nutrition due to a diet limited to french fries lead to blindness? Absolutely that can happen, but this story was way more complex than simply blaming Pringles and fries. 

Can I Swim In My Contact Lenses?

woman in water clearing his face of waterNo, no and no. Not only can you not swim in them, but you can not expose your contact lenses to any type of water at all. This includes tap water, oceans, swimming pools, lakes, hot tubs, and even showers! Soft contact lenses absorb not only the water, but any viruses, bacteria, or other microbes that are living in the water. Although rare, an organism called Acanthamoeba which lives in impure water can attach itself to your contacts and cause your cornea to become extremely infected and inflamed and can cause permanent vision loss and/or a corneal transplant if not treated quickly and aggressively.  A couple of weeks ago a young man from the UK shared his personal story of how he contracted Acanthamoeba – he initially thought he just scratched his eye putting in his contacts, but instead of getting better over time it got worse. Ultimately he was diagnosed with Acanthamoeba keratitis and even after months of different treatments and procedures he unfortunately lost the vision in his eye. The doctors concluded that he contracted the infection because he showered daily in his contact lenses. Although this is definitely a worse case scenario at the very least the water can cause your contacts to tighten up on your eye and create discomfort or can wash away your natural tears causing dry eyes. Waterproof well fitting swim goggles can be worn over contacts but an even safer option is to purchase a pair of prescription swim goggles to eliminate all risks of contamination.

June = Cataract Awareness Month

pexels-photo-902194.jpegContrary to popular belief, a cataract is not an eye disease, rather it is a natural age related change to the lens of the eye which causes it to become opaque and difficult to see through. Generally cataracts are very slow growing and most commonly develop in people over the age of 55. Signs and symptoms can be subtle at first, ranging from blurry vision, glare from headlights, difficulty driving at night and frequent eyeglass prescription changes. Most people come into the office complaining that their glasses are not working when in reality they are experiencing blurred vision from cataracts.

So what exactly is a cataract? There is a part of the eye called the lens which is located behind the iris, the colored part of the eye and it functions to focus light on the retina. When we are young the lens is clear and flexible but as we age the lens becomes opaque or cloudy and consequently images on the retina become blurred. Cataracts can also form in patients with diabetes, smokers, and those on certain medications like steroids. There is no proven way to prevent cataracts but UV protection, smoking cessation and a healthy diet that includes antioxidants can help prevent their premature development.

pexels-photo-690887.jpegHow do we treat cataracts? When cataracts start to interfere with quality of life and ability to function, surgical removal of the cataract is indicated. The lens of the eye is removed and replaced with an artificial lens which greatly improves vision. The most common comment I get on the first day after the operation is how bright and beautiful colors look. As with any surgery there are risks, but we co-manage surgery with the best cataract surgeons in order to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Vitamin “See”

yellow health medicine wellness

If you’ve read enough of my blog posts, you’ve probably figured out that I am a little obsessed with both the short and long term effects that digital devices have on our eyes. I am particularly interested in the effects it has on kids since many of them are exposed to some kind of tech as early as the first year of life. Recently,  a company called EyePromise debuted a vitamin named Screen Shield Teen aimed at kids aged 4-17 that is a supplement meant to support and preserve visual comfort and wellness for this age group. The main ingredients are 5 mg of dietary zeaxanthin and 2.5 mg of lutein which are antioxidants that help eradicate free radicals produced by blue light and help protect the macular pigment which is crucial for developing eye health. The vitamin is a fruit punch flavored chewable that is gluten free and can be taken together with regular multivitamins. Increasing amounts of children and teens are coming into my practice with complaints of tired eyes, headaches and eye strain from too much screen time and aside from the common sense advice of decreasing screen time this vitamin could play a part as well in protecting young eyes from future damage. 

photography of women using mobile phones

Should Babies Have Screen Time?

boy wearing blue t shirt using black laptop computer in a dim lighted scenario

When my daughter was a toddler in the 1990’s we bought her a Sesame Street computer game, fully prepared to teach her how to wield the mouse and click her way around Elmo’s playroom. To our shock and delight she was a natural, skillfully manipulating her way around the game as if the mouse was an extension of her hand. Twenty years later we take it for granted that our kids are born with a natural affinity for anything involving technology and researchers are trying to figure out exactly how the digital world should fit into our children’s lives.

girl holding green leafA few days ago the World Health Organization (WHO) came out with their first ever guidelines for how much screen time is healthy for kids under the age of five. They recommended no screen time at all for babies under a year old and less than an hour a day for kids ages three to four. Their definition of screen time included TV and videos, electronic devices, and computer games. Their recommendations were based not necessarily on the fact that screen time is inherently bad for little ones, but that increased screen time increases sedentary behavior which in turn leads to decreased physical activity. It is the emphasis on physical activity which is the key point to these WHO guidelines. Dr. Fiona Bull, a program manager at WHO had this to say: “Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and well-being, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life”. Other childhood researchers disagreed with the new guidelines saying that they did not take into account the quality of the digital interactions, only the quantity. So what’s the upshot of these new recommendations? As with most things in life, moderation and common sense go a long way in figuring out how to interpret this kind of advice.