September 2017


NOT QUITE "IN THE PINK"!

Most of us have experienced "pink eye" or conjunctivitis at some time in our lives, either as children or adults, or both. We have woken up with red burning eyes that we struggle to open because of the discharge gluing them together. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the thin clear membrane over the white of the eye (sclera) and the inside of the eye lid. Not generally a serious health risk, it can be contagious, spreading easily from person to person. There are a number of different kinds of conjunctivitis, each with their own cause, symptoms and treatment, although the symptoms are sometimes similar regardless of the cause.

BACTERIAL CONJUNCTIVITIS

Bacterial conjunctivitis generally affects both eyes, or may start in one eye and spread quickly to the other. It is an infection caused by a bacteria which may come from the person's own skin or upper respiratory tract, or have been caught from another person with conjunctivitis.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is characterised by redness, itching and a discharge which crusts over the eyelids and lashes, particularly on waking from sleep. There is a feeling of grittiness in the eyes and may be an increased sensitivity to light.

This type of conjunctivitis is usually treated with antibiotic drops or ointment, and should clear within a few days. Discharge and crusting can be cleaned with cotton wool dipped in cooled boiled water. Even if left untreated, most cases will clear up on their own within a couple of weeks.

VIRAL CONJUNCTIVITIS

This is usually associated with a cold or viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, and is quickly spread from one person to another. The person often feels unwell, with the generalised symptoms of a cold, and a sensation of something in the eyes. The eyes appear red, watery and sometimes swollen with a "glassy" appearance.

Just as a cold needs to run its course, so does viral conjunctivitis, which usually takes 5 to 7 days. Treatment is generally symptomatic, aiming to ease the discomfort. Soothing eye drops or ointment may be used, and cold compresses can make the eyes feel more comfortable. Medication which targets the generalised physical symptoms may help. Because it is highly contagious, strict hygiene should be practiced, including frequent hand washing and no sharing of towels. Contact lenses should not be worn until the symptoms have been relieved.

ALLERGIC CONJUNCTIVITIS

Allergic conjunctivitis is common amongst people who suffer from allergies such as hayfever or excema, or are allergic to organisms in the environment, including pollen, dust or certain cosmetics.

The symptoms may occur only at certain times of the year, depending on the allergen, or can be present all year round. They include itching, redness, watering, and a feeling of irritation in the eyes.

Allergic conjunctivitis should improve once the allergy is treated and the allergen removed. Non-prescription artificial tears may help relieve itching and burning, but eye drops promoted to reduce eye redness may irritate the eyes and should not be used. Ask your optometrist to recommend the most appropriate eye drops for your symptoms. Antihistamines either taken orally or in eye drops are sometimes prescribed, but need to be used for a few weeks to be effective. In some cases, corticosteroid eye drops can be used, but need to be prescribed and monitored by a medical professional.

REACTIVE CONJUNCTIVITIS

Sometimes exposure to irritants such as smoke, swimming pool chemicals shampoos or fumes from certain chemicals causes a reaction in the eyes resulting in redness, watering and burning.

Using cold water to flush the eyes usually helps within a few minutes.

If the conjunctivitis is caused by an acid or alkaline substance, rinse the eyes thoroughly with cold water and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

RELIEVING THE SYMPTOMS OF CONJUNCTIVITIS

While conjunctivitis is generally not a risk to sight or eye health and can often resolve without treatment, it can be extremely uncomfortable and irritating. Certain simple steps, including home remedies, can ease the discomfort. These tips may be helpful in the case of conjunctivitis with mild symptoms, but you may need to consult your doctor or optometrist if there is severe pain, problems with vision or increased swelling or tenderness around the eyes.

  • Apply a warm or cold compress to the eyes three or four times a day to ease the discomfort and reduce swelling. If using cotton wool, be sure to discard it after use; if using a face cloth, use separate cloths for each eye and wash well after each application.
  • A chamomile tea bag steeped in boiling water, cooled and placed over the eyes for half an hour can help reduce swelling and soothe burning. Discard after use.
  • Placing slices of raw potato, a natural astringent, over the eyes can help reduce inflammation.
  • A turmeric compress can help alleviate the discomfort and swelling associated with conjunctivitis.
  • Protect your eyes from dirt and other irritating substances.
  • Avoid the use of eye makeup, which may irritate the eyes.
  • To prevent the spreading of the infection and to minimise discomfort, avoid wearing contact lenses until the symptoms have cleared.

Ask your optometrist which over-the-counter eye drops may be effective in relieving symptoms and not irritate the eyes further.

PREVENT THE SPREADING OF CONJUNCTIVITIS

  • Try not to touch or rub the infected eye or eyes.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
  • Wash any discharge from the eyes several times a day using a fresh cotton ball or paper towel. Afterwards, discard the cotton ball or paper towel and wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  • Use tissues or paper towels to dry the eyes and throw them away after use. Use a separate one for each eye.
  • Wash your hands before and after applying eye drops or ointment.
  • Don't share towels or face cloths.
  • Wash pillowcases and towels in hot water and detergent.
  • Avoid wearing eye makeup.
  • Don't share eye makeup with anyone.
  • For a few days wear glasses instead of contact lenses. Throw away disposable lenses, or be sure to clean extended-wear lenses and all eyewear cases.
  • Do not use eye drops that were used for an infected eye in a non-infected eye.
  • Once treatment is over and the condition has resolved, dispose of any eye drops that were used.
  • If your child has bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, keep him or her home from school until he or she is no longer contagious. It's usually safe to return to school when symptoms have been resolved; however, it is important to continue practicing good hygiene.


GLAUCOMA - A PERSONAL STORY

Why is award-winning actress, Emma Thompson, worried about losing her sight? Both her mother and her maternal grandmother, and probably her great-grandmother, have been affected by glaucoma, a hereditary eye condition which has sometimes been described as "the silent thief of vision".

In the healthy eye, a clear fluid, aqueous humor, circulates in the eye. Constant eye pressure is maintained by a balance between the production of this fluid and its drainage from the eye. With glaucoma, the pressure gradually builds up, slowly causing damage to the optic nerve which sends signals from the retina at the back of the eye to the brain. Over time, the damage to the optic nerve results in irreversible vision loss. One sufferer from glaucoma commented that "sight lost really is hindsight"! Although the vision loss cannot be reversed, its progress can be slowed down or even stopped by timeous management of the condition.

Unfortunately, because glaucoma develops slowly without obvious symptoms at first, many people are unaware that they have it until they notice changes, usually in their peripheral vision. At this stage, there is already some damage to the optic nerve. For this reason, it is essential that eye pressure is checked by your optometrist regularly, particularly if there is a family history of glaucoma, or other risk factors. These include extreme short-sightedness, previous eye injury, or health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Emma Thompson and her mother, Phyllida Law, reinforce the fact that early detection is the key to early management.

Although glaucoma is most common in people over 40 years of age, it can occur earlier, and can even be present at birth. Singer Andrea Bocelli was born with congenital glaucoma, and musician Ray Charles started losing his sight at the age of 4 and was blind by age 10. Other celebrities with glaucoma include astronaut John Glenn, actress Whoopi Goldberg, and singer Bono.

A South African man shares his heart-warming story of the positive turn his life took following the devastating effects of glaucoma. Joseph Matheatau grew up in Thaba Nchu in rural Free State, and remembers being able to see with only one eye, having lost his sight in his left eye at 3 years of age. He was teased by both teachers and fellow pupils for his failing eyesight. When finally taken to a hospital in Pretoria, he was diagnosed with glaucoma and told that he would eventually go completely blind. Although he describes that moment as "a nightmare", he said: "I had to focus and think how I could stand up and make it. My first thought was that I have to go to school."

Through the years his sight deteriorated. He struggled to pass matric, and lost his sight completely eight years later. In 2014 he joined the Kaleidoscope Training Centre in Worcester to study marketing and entrepeneurship. He learnt to read Braille, type, check his mail and browse on a computer, and discovered his interest in and talent for making coffee. Joseph received his training as a barista at a well-known coffee shop in Cape Town, and has been working ever since at Blindiana Barista, a coffee shop run by Kaleidoscope that employs blind and partially sighted staff. The few scars on his hands bear testament to the fact that the training was not always easy, and initially he burned himself while working with the boiling water and hot milk. Today he works confidently with the Blindiana Blend, a coffee blended, tasted, packed and distributed by the blind. "Every cup smells of success" says a smiling Joseph.

Joseph dreams of opening his own coffee shop one day, and would like to study industrial psychology to help people who have experienced similar struggles to his. He would like to inspire young people by sending the message that a disability need not stand in the way of a successful and productive life.


"Tis but a scratch!" - FOCUS ON EYEWEAR CARE

Glasses are an investment in time and money. You spend time choosing a suitable frame and discussing the most appropriate lenses for your vision needs with your optometrist. You wait for your new glasses to be made up and adjusted to fit correctly, and getting used to them may take a little while. They are not a cheap item, and you are unlikely to buy another pair for a while, so it is important to look after your glasses and keep them in the condition that facilitates optimal vision.

Mid-September is the start of EYE CARE AWARENESS MONTH, when caring for your eyewear is as important as caring for your eyes.

CLEANING YOUR GLASSES

Washing you glasses at least once a day will keep the lenses in an optimal state, and avoid you having to strain to see through smudged or dirty lenses.

Hold your frames by gripping the piece that crosses the bridge of the nose, rather than one of the ear pieces. This will prevent you from accidently bending the frame while you clean.

Rinse with water before wiping and cleaning them. Particles of dust and dirt on the lens can be abrasive if you wipe over a dry lens.

If possible, allow your glasses to air dry, which will prevent any abrasive materials from getting onto the lenses and scratching them.

If you can't leave them to air dry, wipe them gently with a soft clean cloth; your optometrist may supply you with one. Wash the cloth regularly.

NEVER dry your glasses with a tissue, paper towel or the edge of your T-shirt! Regardless of how soft they may feel to the touch, these materials have fibres or textures that can scratch the lenses.

If you would rather not use water, use a spray or cleaner that is specifically made to clean glasses, or a drop of dishwashing liquid. NEVER use household cleaners which may contain chemicals such as ammonia, which can strip the coating on the lenses.

STORING YOUR GLASSES

When not wearing them, keep your glasses in a case. A hard case which opens and closes is preferable to a case that the glasses slide into, which can rub against the lenses and cause tiny scratches.

Never put unprotected glasses or sunglasses in a pocket, handbag or briefcase.

Place your glasses with the lenses facing upwards, never lens down.

Avoid leaving your glasses on a dressing table or vanity top in the bathroom. Splashes and spatter from substances nearby can leave spots on the lenses and damage certain lens coatings.

Don't leave glasses on the dashboard of a hot car. This can damage both the lenses and the frame.

SCRATCHED LENSES AND BENT FRAMES

From time to time lenses may become scratched. Even tiny hairline scratches or particles interfere with clear vision, particularly at night when light travelling along the scratches creates haloes.

Bent glasses, too, can negatively affect your vision, and will probably feel uncomfortable on your face.

Sometimes the tiny screws holding the frame together become loose, causing a loosening or misalignment of the frame. You can gently tighten these yourself or take them in to your optometrist to have them tightened.

Coating on the lenses that have been damaged in any way will compromise optimal vision.

If for any reason your lenses are scratched, your frame out of alignment, or a lens has fallen out of the frame, visit your optometrist.

HANDLING YOUR GLASSES

Use both hands, not one hand, to put glasses on and take them off. This keeps the ear pieces straight and well-aligned. Using one hand stretches the glasses out of shape.

Keep glasses on your nose, not on top of your head! Apart from the danger of them falling off and becoming damaged, putting them on your head can distort the shape of your glasses and scratch the lenses.

If your glasses are slipping off your nose, try not to push them up by placing your finger on the nosepiece. This causes stress on the nose pads and the center part of the frame. Instead, gently grasp the lenses by putting your thumb at the bottom and fingers at the top, and then moving them to where they feel comfortable.


ALL EYES ON SPRING

The sun starts shining and the flowers come out. You can't wait to drive into the countryside and frolic in a field of yellow. (Okay, I've never frolicked in my life but you know what I mean...) So you park your car on a green, green hillside and throw open the door. You take a deep breath, step onto the grass… and step right back into your car. Because your eyes are itching so bad it feels like there are baby ants dancing on your eyeballs.

As if the season of blooming flowers isn't enough, spring also happens to be the season of love. So instead of leaving those blossomy irritants in the countryside where they belong, people pick them and sell them at a massive profit to lovers everywhere. You know how it works – supply and demand. The demand for romance is so high that suddenly the cities are full of flowers too. And no matter where you try to hide, that pollen will find you and work its special magic on your eyes.

Then there's the all-too-famous red eye. Like I said, spring is the time for romance, which also means it's the time for romantic movies. So maybe your eyes are red because you've cried your way through a tearjerker starring Sandra Bullock. Not that you'd tell anyone that. The whole reason why cinemas are dark inside is so people can cry to their heart's content.

So maybe the red-eye is from crying through a love story. Or maybe it's the pollen plus the change of seasons plus everything else that's hanging in the air.

Yup, we all know how heartwarming it is to see animals giving birth to their babies in the springtime. But for anyone prone to allergies, it just means more things to irritate your eyes. More cat hair, dog fur, chicken feathers, hamster whatevers… and the list goes on. Mathematically speaking, the birth of new animals exponentially increases the potential for red, itchy, swollen eyes.

I know what you're thinking. I'm ruining spring. If there was a Scrooge or a Grinch for spring, I would be it. But I'm not trying to be negative. I'm not trying to ruin the happiest time of the year. All I'm saying is this magical time can be absolute torture on the eyes.

So take care out there. Don't rub your eyes (which you should never do anyway). Wear sunglasses that protect your eyes against little bits of pollen and weird stuff in the air. And of course, talk to your eye care professional if you need any help getting the problem under control.

And if you're super-sensitive, don't go outside on windy days. Lock your doors, close your windows, and frolic through your living room until you can frolic no more.