Am I Blue?

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– By Stephen Cohen, O.D.

When we see a rainbow, it is the composite of colors of visible “white light” radiation.  On one end is “blue” light, which comes right after Ultraviolet Radiation (UV).  The potential damaging effects of UV are well known.  It can contribute to skin damage (aging, cancer) and contributes to cataract development in the eyes.  It has now been shown that the blue end of the visible spectrum of light can penetrate deeper into our eyes and may contribute to conditions such as macular degeneration.  The macula is the sensitive part of the retina that gives us our central, sharp vision.

Blue light comes from the sun, but is also emitted by overhead lighting, hand held devices, smart phones, and computers. Blue light also stimulates the pituitary gland.  This is part of the process that tells us it’s time to wake up in the morning.  It is, therefore, interesting that when people pick up their iPad or iPhone when they have trouble sleeping, they are actually further stimulating their “wake-up” system.

There are several things that can be done to protect our eyes from UV and blue light.  Most sunglasses include UV protection, but might not carry over into the blue end of the visible spectrum.  However, there are coatings (virtually clear) that can be added to any glasses that blocks UV and blue light, as well as reducing glare that can cause strain.  There are also supplements that can help to protect the backs of our eyes.  Many of you may have heard of “Lutein,” which is a retinal metabolite that protects the back of our eyes.  There are now products that have this plus two other important supplements that help to maintain the thickness of the sensitive part of our retinae, which, in turn, helps to block UV and blue light.  The right type of Omega-3’s could also protect the back of the eyes.

There are modifiable risk factors for macular degeneration (e.g., smoking, high BMI, fatty diets, sun/blue light exposure, thinning of the macula) and non-modifiable risks (e.g., age, female greater than male, light colored eyes or skin, family history, inherited inflammatory disease).  A low-fat diet with plenty of green, leafy vegetables, as well as supplements and lifestyle modifications can help to prevent this debilitating disease.  Your eyes will thank you for it!

To Protect And Preserve

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By Stephen Cohen, O.D. – 

While the rest of the country hunkers down for winter, we can relish in the weather that reminds us why we put up with Arizona summers. What we don’t often consider is the full affect the sun has on our eyes, even during the winter months when the daylight hours are shorter and the sun feels less intense. Surveys show that whereas almost nine out of 10 people understand that Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) can be damaging to our skin, almost nine out of 10 do not realize the potential damage that repeated UVR exposure can have on our eyes. This is particularly relevant for our children, since up to 80 percent of lifetime UVR exposure occurs by age 18. Unfortunately, like skin damage, the effect of UVR to our eyes is cumulative, and may not show up for decades. For example, up to one-third of all cataracts are as a result of long-term UV exposure. There are also unsightly benign growths on the white part of our eyes that result directly from UVR exposure, as well as cancerous growths, and potential retinal damage (e.g., macular degeneration).

UV coatings in glasses and contact lenses are virtually clear. The degree of tinting (lens darkness) merely determines how much the visible light might be reduced. Although even cheaper sunglass lenses can have adequate UV protection, they may distort vision as a result of inferior optics of the lenses. Sunglasses should have three qualities: ample coverage (size of the glasses) to protect the eyelids (one of the major locations for melanoma) as well as the sides of the eyes, good optics and adequate levels of UV-blocking. On another note, most contact lenses offer about 10 percent UVR protection, however, there are now contact lenses that provide protection equivalent to sunglasses. Lastly, recent studies show that the “blue end” of the visible spectrum can cause damage to the eyes. Newer lens coatings are now available to block these rays as well.

Optimal UVR protection involves a hat with a brim, sunglasses and where appropriate, contact lenses with UVR protection. As the New Year begins, make a resolution to protect your eyes early and often. In the long run, your eyes will thank you for it.

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