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Why is Optical Health Important?

Ask An Expert: Optical Dispenser & Technician

For this edition of our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, we spoke to Jason Smith, a qualified Optical Dispenser and Technician on the importance of optical health.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others” – Jonathan Swift.

Eyesight is perhaps something many of us take for granted. However one only needs to be in an unfamiliar dark room to appreciate the importance and utter dependence we have on our eyes. In today’s ‘wellness-aware’ society, we see gyms popping up in every suburb, people out running, cycling, and walking the dog, fitness classes being held in the local park, and numerous health and wellbeing television programs and mobile apps. All this seems to promote the same message: healthy body, healthy life. While this is incredibly important, one part of the body and perhaps one of the most important that we do tend to neglect is our eyes. Regular eye examinations, corrective and protective eyewear, healthy lifestyle choices, minimising exposure to harmful UV light, reducing excessive digital device usage and eye exercises all contribute to providing and maintaining overall eye health.

Jason, why is optical health important?

Aside from the common refractive vision conditions such as short and long-sightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia which can generally be treated with spectacles or contact lenses, eye diseases pose a much greater risk. Glaucoma, Age-related Macular Degeneration, Diabetic Retinopathy, Cataracts, and Pterygiums are more serious issues that can lead to reduced, impaired, or even loss of vision and require more specialised attention and treatment. Therefore, holistic health programs should include provisions for eye health which can be discussed in more detail with your eye care provider.

What are some of the common issues impacting eye health?

There are many common issues that directly and indirectly have an impact on overall eye health. According to the Australian Government’s Department of Health, injury, illness, ageing, and genes are key factors impacting eye health. Inadequate diet and lifestyle choices, such as smoking, excessive alcohol, and lack of exercise contribute to poor overall health and possible reduced or compromised immunity which in turn may impact eye health. Choosing plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and oily fish such as salmon and sardines helps nourish the body and provide necessary vitamins, minerals, and essential oils beneficial for the eyes. Sleep plays a major role in our overall health, so lack of sleep also impacts eye health. Creating good work habits where there is minimal exposure to digital device use at night, along with removing these devices from the bedroom and creating a designated workspace helps the body relax into sleep in an environment free of digital distraction.

What steps can I take to prevent eye strain?

One of the most important, yet simple and quick ways of preventing or minimising eye strain is eye exercises. Eye circling, figure eight, and focus shift are three very simple exercises one can do to help reduce eye strain. Think of it like normal exercise: the eye contains six muscles and these also need to be stretched and exercised. It is recommended that each adult should have their eyes tested on average every two years. This may vary depending on your personal circumstances and eye health, however having regular eye tests may help to detect problems at an early stage. This means addressing any issues early on so treatment can begin to help reduce the risk of any permanent damage to your eyes and should be included as an essential part of your healthcare routine.

If needed and prescribed, spectacles fitted with corrective lenses and relevant lens coatings can provide clearer vision, less eye strain, and protection from the constant emissions from digital devices. Coatings such as a Multicoat/Anti-Glare/ Anti-Reflective coating reduces glare from the screen as well as offering protection from indoor sources of UV, and provides clearer, sharper vision. It eliminates reflections from the surface of the lenses allowing more light to pass through the lens to the eyes. Blue Filters or Blue Technology filters are also a good addition if you are spending a lot of time in front of the screen. Digital devices emit more blue light than is found naturally occurring, so these Blue Filters target reducing the negative effects of this additional blue light on the eyes. Ask your eyecare provider to discuss the benefits of these lens coatings in more detail.

How can I reduce the impact of UV exposure on my eyes?

UV radiation, whether from natural sunlight or indoor artificial rays, can damage the eye’s surface tissues as well as the cornea and lens. This is very important to consider, as most environments we interact within our normal daily lives expose us to UV radiation. For indoor exposure, safety spectacles or spectacles fitted with corrective lenses and multicoat as mentioned previously can protect the eyes. Older style CRT computer screens had issues with UV radiation, however, newer LCD laptops and desktop monitors generally don’t have the same issues. The sun poses a greater risk to the eyes so considering your eye protection in the form of sunglasses is an important decision.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that overexposure to the harmful UV light outdoors raises the risk of eye damage and diseases such as cataracts, eye cancers, pterygium, growths and snow blindness. Sunglasses with appropriate 100% UV, UV400 or UVA and UVB protection will help minimise and prevent these possible negative effects of over exposure to sunlight. Speak to your eye care provider about sunglass options.

At times, I need to use our phone, laptop or computer for extended periods. Is there anything I can do to minimise any harmful impacts?

The use of digital devices is becoming increasingly necessary in today’s tech-driven society, so it’s important to take a step back and evaluate how lifestyle choices may help minimise the potentially harmful effects of overusing screen-based devices.  Although it may be impractical or perhaps just not possible, reducing the amount of time spent in front of digital devices would be the best overall option. Other options that may help reduce harmful effects would be to create block times, where you work for a specific amount of time then take a short break. These short breaks are extremely important as it allows time for the eye muscles to relax and not be exposed to the glare and excess blue light emitted from the digital devices. Minimising the use of electronic devices at night, will help avoid the effect that excessive blue light has on the secretion of melatonin at night, to ensure good sleep.

As mentioned earlier, eye exercises can be conducted throughout the day during these breaks. It is also very beneficial to employ general stretching, moving and clearing the mind from the stagnant and focused position usually seen whilst working. Protective or corrective eyewear, along with a well-balanced diet and healthy lifestyle choices are also key factors to help reduce risk.

Jason Smith is a qualified Optical Dispenser and Technician, holding a Diploma of Optical Dispensing with over 35 years’ experience within the optical industry. Jason has worked in both Australia and London in the UK, as practice manager, business owner, trainer/coach and optical dispenser/mechanic. Currently working at Bupa Optical as a senior Optical Dispenser and trainer, Jason also holds a BCA in Photography and works as a professional freelance photographer. His creative work utilising his vast experience in optics to develop photography technique, skills and create fine art images.

– Phuong Ong

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