Detecting Alzheimer’s through the eyes

Almost three years ago I wrote a short blog about an eye test that was being developed in a bid to spot the early signs of Alzheimer’s. So I was pleased to read over the weekend that this research is continuing with signs of success.

That said, whilst the test described may be relatively ‘simple’ in the eyes of the patient, what they are in fact describing is a process involving a very expensive and specialist piece of laser scanning technology, which is still in the developmental stages. The progress has undoubtedly been encouraging but we are still many years away from seeing it in practice.

I have already been asked if this will form part of a regular eye exam. I would suggest this is doubtful. The technology would be very expensive for a practice to purchase and a very small number of patients would fall in to the ‘at risk’ category so it is unlikely to be something you’ll ever see at your optometrists. However I hope that when it is ready, it will be easily accessible to those who would benefit from its use. It could form part of a valuable early detection system, allowing for a plan to be formed with other medical professionals to manage, and hopefully delay, the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is such a devastating disease for those affected, so I do hope that research continues both in to this technology and the quest to find a drug to manage the disease.

Vision for the competitive edge

Watching the England vs. Uruguay match following the decisive goal from Luis Suarez I heard one of the commentators saying “Suarez sees things that bit quicker than anyone else.” Perhaps his competitive edge did in fact come from his eyes but over the last few days it’s become clear he can’t keep his temper under control properly.

luis_suarez_bite

Whatever the sport, football, cricket, rugby or tennis, all participators want to see the ball first. Now teams are recognising that examining vision may help their players gain the edge over the competition. Specialists such as Sport Vision work with teams and individual competitors to maximise all aspects of vision. It isn’t just about having perfect eye sight, there are many factors that contribute to clarity of vision. Aspects like depth perception and having the ability to focus accurately, would also examined by these experts.

Not every aspiring sports person has access to these services and it is worth speaking to your own optometrist about your vision in relation to your sporting performance. We have a lot of experience in the practice working with top sporting professionals experience that you we would be delighted to share.

Choosing the right contact lenses is a good place to start. Some lenses have features that are especially beneficial to sportsmen and women. For example, custom tinted lenses can be selected to reduce glare when playing under floodlights or in bright sun, and may also improve reaction times. Custom tinted lenses can be worn purely for their tint even if no vision correction is required.

In addition, a trip to your optometrist should include a test of your peripheral vision using specialised technology. You might not notice any issues with your peripheral vision on a daily basis but in sport it could mean your opponent sees the ball that vital split second before you. And even for those who consider themselves to have 20/20 vision, the competitive advantage that could be gained by making even the smallest of corrections should not be underestimated.

Blurred lines

Last week I carried out a first ever eye examination on former Scotland rugby captain Mike Blair who was recounting stories of problems he has experienced with colour deficiency prompting me to write this blog. In one particular match in Aberdeen he stepped out on to a snow-covered pitch an hour before Scotland were set to kick off, only to find the lines had been marked out in red to make them standout from the snow. However for Mike, this meant the lines were now indistinguishable. From the usual crisp, clear lines he was used to seeing, he could now only see the grass and snow. The result was the groundsmen had to busily change them before kick-off and spectators arrived to see a rare sight – a pitch with pink markings.

ishihara
This is a classic example of red/green colour deficiency which affects around 5% of men and very few women. The degree to which people are affected varies. Usually individuals can distinguish between very bright reds and greens. It is the less vibrant versions of the colours that cause the problems, and distinguishing between shades of red or green can be nigh on impossible. The condition is often referred to as ‘colour blindness’ which is an inaccurate term as those with the condition can still see colour not black and white.

The reason that more men suffer this form of colour deficiency relates to the fact that it is carried through the 23rd chromosome, commonly referred to as the sex chromosome. So both a mother and father would have to be carriers of the faulty gene for it to be passed to a daughter whereas just the mother has to be a carrier for her to pass it to her son.

Whilst it rarely causes individuals major problems, it does rule out certain professions-pilots and electricians are two that spring to mind. It is worth parents noting that the condition may go unnoticed as it is may not be routinely tested for. It is advisable to get children (really only boys) tested for colour deficiency before they start school to ensure it is spotted early. Many learning materials are not tailored to the needs of those with colour deficiency so children may struggle unnecessarily if undetected.

PS. If you can’t see the 29 on the coloured dot diagram above (called the ‘Ishihara test’ by the way), you should come and get your eyes examined!

Glaucoma – let us catch it early

We’re supporting National Glaucoma Week (9-15 June), encouraging people to take Action for Sight and book an eye exam to check for signs of the disease.

Beat-Invisible-Glaucoma
Over the years we’ve detected many cases glaucoma through simple tests before clients had any idea they had the early stages of the condition. Many are surprised that glaucoma doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it is quite advanced. It can be detected much earlier with three tests carried out as part of our comprehensive eye exam.

If there is history of glaucoma in your family then you’re probably aware of the importance of having regular eye tests. However it isn’t always genetic and early detection saves sight. Over 90% of those who have the symptoms detected early will retain sight for life and it is the main cause of preventable blindness. Signs of glaucoma, and other eye ailments can be detected in a regular eye test.

Key factors which increase the chance of glaucoma:

  • Other family members suffering from the condition.
  • People of African-Caribbean origin are four times more likely to develop glaucoma.
  • More common in older age
  • People with severe shortsightedness are known to be at increased risk
  • People with diabetes may also have an increased risk.

For more information about glaucoma please visit our website or make an appointment on 0131 225 2235.

The Eye Diet

food

Since the New Year the Sunday papers have been packed full of articles on the ‘latest’ diet.  Sugar seems to be the buzzword for 2014 and it is encouraging to see more focus on simple healthy eating than the usual range of gimmicks and fads from companies selling weird and usually not wonderful, diets.

Most people are inspired by their desire to lose some weight and look better. However few realise how beneficial a good diet can also have on eyesight. Here are some tips for a diet that will leave your eyes looking healthy.

Dark green, leafy vegetables
Eating spinach and kale for example, could help reduced your risk of macular degeneration. They contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two important nutrients that have antioxidant functions in the body and help prevent cell damage. Lutein also helps protect the retina.

Bright orange fruit and vegetables
The likes of sweet potatoes which have a rich source of beta carotene, a natural precursor to vitamin A, the vitamin most commonly associated with healthy eyes. And fruits like oranges are a great source of vitamin C which some evidence has suggested may slow the affects of macular degeneration and the formation of cataracts.

Beans
Adding zinc to your diet by eating zinc-rich foods such as beans, lentils, eggs and turkey will help the liver release vitamin A.

Oily fish
Fish such as salmon and tuna are rich in source of omega-3 which studies have found may also help protect eyes from age-related macular degeneration and dry eyes.

Wheat germ and sunflower seeds
Great sources of vitamin E which can help protect the eyes from free radical damage.

Eating a balanced diet with plenty fruit and veg of all colours will ensure your eyes receive the nutrients they require. Foods like those mentioned above will benefit you in many other ways too, so forget the fads, focus on foods packed full of nutrients and you will notice the benefits both inside and out.

Sunglasses – not just a style statement

I’ve been reluctant to start this blog. Talking about sunglasses and sunny weather will no doubt result in a May where the sun goes AWOL. Regardless, it is good to remember sunglasses aren’t just for the summer. There are benefits of wearing sunglasses even on a lovely crisp and chilly January’s day. Many fashion conscious folk don’t need encouraged to wear a pair but they shouldn’t just be seen as a style statement. They are essential to help keep our eyes healthy.

Ultraviolet (UV) light is harmful to the eyes and continued exposure to UV light can lead to long-term damage including macular degeneration and cataracts, both serious conditions affecting vision in later life. In addition, constant squinting can be very uncomfortable and lead to fine lines around the eyes. UV rays also affect the delicate skin around the eye area. This area of skin is probably the most sensitive skin on our bodies so should be treated with extra care. Jackie O had the right idea. Bigger is better when sunglasses are concerned as more of this delicate area is covered and therefore protected.

jackie-o-show-1

Few also realise that exposure to bright light can make it harder to adjust to seeing in the dark. So for example if you’re driving home in the dark after a day in the sunshine, it is especially important to wear sunglasses to ensure your eyes are able to adapt effectively.

Here are a few tips:

· Make sure the glasses you buy meet EU and British Standard and block 100% of UV light.
· Darker lenses don’t mean better protection. In fact the darkest of lenses are too dark for wearing whilst driving so watch out for that.
· A study by Which a few years back highlighted the issues that can be faced from buying cheap high street sunglasses. That said there are many low cost options out there just make sure you look for 100% UVA and UVB protection, as well as considering how dark your lenses are.
· Polarised lenses are the most effective at blocking glare.
· Always wear specialised glasses for sport, tailored to the requirements of your chosen pastime.
· Remember the little ones. The damage of UV rays can start from a very young age so make sure your children wear sunglasses too, as well as hats to cover the face, should the sunglasses get tossed aside! Wrap around glasses like www.babybanz.com are especially good to ensure they remain on, as well as protecting against peripheral glare.

So make sure you and all your family have your sunglasses close at hand for when the sun makes an appearance both at home and abroad. It will happen!

Here are some eyewear brands that we stock. All are available with prescription and non-prescription lenses. Speaking of Jackie O, there is a Ray-Ban model still available in her iconic style called Jackie Ohh – it comes in 4 colours with 2 lens colour options. http://www.ray-ban.com/uk/products/sun/RB4101

http://www.ray-ban.com/uk/

http://www.mauijim.com/shop/en/uk

http://www.williammorris.co.uk

http://www.guess.eu/en/Catalog/Browse/women/sunglasses/

http://www.silhouette.com/gb/en/home/

Lenses for the smallest of eyes

Many of my patients will know contact lenses are a passion of mine. Most of my patients have straightforward prescriptions with some requiring more specialist products. However a small number of our patients are a little more complex still.

We are fortunate to work closely with the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion and St John’s Hospital, taking referrals from them to provide specialist expertise in dealing with even the youngest of patients including newborns with congenital cataracts.

Babies who are born with cataracts (the clouding of the eye’s lens) are usually operated on within the first few weeks of their lives. For adults, following surgery the normal course is to be fitted with lens implants or where this isn’t possible they can wear high prescription glasses (around +15.00 or so)

Babies are different. After surgery to remove the cloudy lens they have been born with the eye is usually too small to support an implant until they are at least 2 years old. They can’t be expected to wear glasses as the prescription is as high at +35.00 and changes every few weeks as it reduces towards the usual +15.00 over the first year of life.

In fact a new study has found that wearing contact lenses for a few years before having implants fitted also gives better eventual outcomes. This is an area myself and my colleagues have a lot of experience in and it is encouraging to see further study supporting the treatment. For surgeons to get the prescription spot on for a small baby is very difficult. It is hard to judge the focusing power of the baby and the infant years are a period of rapid growth so the chance of the surgeon getting their lenses as near perfection as possible increases as the baby becomes a toddler. At this time testing is far more straightforward. The eyes have developed substantially and the child’s ability to communicate makes it easier to select the right permanent lens.

As you can imagine, it isn’t easy getting a baby to wear contact lenses, perhaps even harder a toddler, but like anything, they do get used to it and as this research reiterates, the long-term benefits are worth the short-term angst.

China raising the bar to improve eyesight

I’ve had quite a few short-sighted children come through the doors this month and it reminded me of an image of Chinese school children.

In China, some 41 per cent of children need glasses, whilst another study from 2011 found that 85 per cent of university students were short-sighted. This compares to around 20-30 per cent in the UK. Some Chinese schools have taken an interesting step to try to halt the increased incidence of short-sightedness in the country, putting bars on desks to prevent children getting too close to their books.

Improve Eyesight

Short-sightedness or myopia is known to run in families so genetics always play a part. However there are environmental factors such as intensive close work that are also known to impact on eye development. The Chinese continue to top the international educational rankings however the long hours spent studying could well be a contributing factor to their declining sight. Spending around 13 hours a day studying at school plus extra tutoring and homework, going to bed late and getting up early, could well be taking its toll.

Obviously we all want our children to learn but eyes need rest like all parts of our bodies. So, far from discouraging your studious child, do encourage them to take breaks, get them outside to give their eyes a rest. It could well help their sight in the longterm.

No Smoking Day

Tomorrow (12 March 2014) is No Smoking Day. Smokers across the country are being encouraged to give up cigarettes for numerous health reasons. Many of the negative effects smoking has on the body are well publicised; heart, lung and mouth disease being some of the most common. However, few appreciate the effect smoking has on the eyes.

nsd_frontpage_banner

Smoking is by far and away the most important modifiable factor in age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the loss of central vision. ‘Modifiable’ means it’s something you can do something about about – i.e. by stopping smoking. There are other risk factors of some of which are modifiable (e.g. UV light exposure and diet) and others which are non-modifiable (e.g. family history). A series of studies have found a significant link between smoking and this form of eye disease.

Cataracts are another eye condition associated with smoking. Cataracts are cloudy patches in the lens which cause visual impairment and various studies have found a link between smokers and the chance of developing cataracts. Although most people get cataracts as the get older, smokers get them younger and they develop faster.

Less seriously, smoking can make your eyes dry and uncomfortable by affecting your tear film, the layer of liquid constantly covering the eyes. You should very quickly notice an improvement in dry eye symptoms if you give up smoking.

So when you’re considering quitting, give a thought to your eyes.

Spritz: transforming the way we read?

Earlier this month a new piece of technology was launched by Spritz which aims to dramatically change the way we consume printed content. The Spritz system basically fast-streams one word at a time so your eyes don’t have to flicker back-and-forth (movements called saccades) to find the point where your brain can properly process them. The app, which will be available on some smartphones, can be customised to suit your own pace displaying from 250 to 1000 words per minute.

phone-2[1]

The key to the success of Spritz is to stop the eye wandering on the page. When you read, your eyes seek out the Optimal Recognition Point of each word (OPR). This technology works out the OPR and highlights this letter in red further assisting the word recognition process. According to Spritz, only 20 percent of our time ‘reading’ actually involves taking in content and during the other 80 percent our eyes wander around the page.

There are definitely downsides. Sneeze and you might miss five words! And it definitely takes some of the leisurely enjoyment out of reading. But I think it could well have a place and I could have probably used it to good effect in my student days. Imagine if you’ve got an English literature assignment due and need to read War and Peace in 10 hours? Spritz could make that happen.

Have a go and see what you think. www.spritzinc.com

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0131 225 2235