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UV damage doesn’t end when summer does

by Dr. Riaz Ahmed, past-president of the Alberta Association of Optometrists

During a recent ski trip to Banff, I was surprised to witness the number of people on the mountain without any type of protective eyewear. While most skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers on the mountain had the proper gear to protect their head, body, hands and feet, they fell short on protecting one of their bodies’ most valuable assets – their eyes.

I was reminded that many people think that protecting their eyes from the sun is only necessary when it’s warm outside. During the summer months, the mental checklist for sun protection includes sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. However, it’s easy to forget to take these same protective measures once the snow starts to fall.

The danger in this situation is ultraviolet (UV) radiation — invisible rays of energy emitted from the sun 365 days a year. There are two main types of UV rays that reach the earth’s surface, known as UVA and UVB, both of which can have damaging effects on eyes and skin. When eyes absorb too much UV light, it can lead to serious eye conditions such as cataracts, retinal damage, growths on the front of the eye and eye cancers, especially on the delicate skin surrounding the eyes. People with lighter coloured eyes and skin are even more at risk for damage as they have less of the protective pigment that helps absorb these rays.

Unfortunately, many simply don’t understand the long-term damage UV rays can have. According to the Canadian National Institute For the Blind (CNIB), only nine per cent of Canadians are aware that sun can cause permanent harm to their eyes. While UV rays are undoubtedly stronger during the spring and summer months, people shouldn’t ignore these harmful effects as soon as fall arrives. Those who are keen to get on the mountain after the first snow fall should be particularly mindful since UV exposure increases on reflective surfaces, such as snow.

There are several proactive measures you can take to ensure your eyes remain in good health. The first step is to be cautious year-round while exposing your eyes to the sun. Wearing proper protective gear is important, which includes UV-blocking sunglasses with wrap-around frames to keep the sun out from the sides, and broad-brimmed hats.

Second, maintain regular visits with your optometrist who will assess your individual eye health and discuss the best options for protecting your eyes year-round. The Alberta Association of Optometrists recommends that adults have an eye exam every one to two years, and at least annually for those over 65 depending on the presence of eye disease. Children should have their first eye exam at six months, again at age three, and every year while they are in school.

Comprehensive eye exams with a doctor of optometry can also reveal insight about your overall health. These visits not only allow an optometrist to detect eye diseases, but also uncover serious health conditions which often have early warning signs present in the eye.

For example, optometrists often identify nevi (similar to skin moles or freckles) in the pigmented layer at the back of the eye. If exposed to UV rays over a lifetime, these can develop into a rare form of cancer called choroidal melanoma, which can be deadly if not treated. Also, as mentioned earlier, the eyelid area is one of the areas of the body where skin cancer is first diagnosed. The most common form is invasive lesions called basal cell carcinomas that grow deep into the surrounding tissue.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned about the eyes is this: good vision and good eye health are often unrelated. You may have 20/20 vision but you may also have risk factors for UV related eye disease. For this reason, it’s important to remember eye protection year-round.

Whether you’re skiing on top of a mountain or sitting on a beach chair on your well-deserved winter vacation, remember to protect your most precious sense against the harmful effects of UV rays.

Blog: Surviving Allergy Season

Spring has officially arrived which means allergy season is here – or quickly approaching. If you’re amongst the 8 million Canadians (one-quarter of the country) that has seasonal allergies, you’ve probably experienced some form of itchy, red, dry, or watery eyes.

Seasonal allergies are caused by the high pollen released by trees, grass, outdoor moulds, and ragweed. They begin in the spring, peak in the summer, and can last as late as fall.

Most of us know when seasonal allergies strike because we start to experience mild to extreme discomfort in our eyes, but have you ever wondered what’s actually causing our eyes to react? Dr. Marino Discepola from McGill University’s Department of Ophthalmology explains:

“When an allergen affects us, it binds to receptor cells called mast cells… we have 50 million of them in a mucous membrane on the surface of our eyelids called the conjunctiva.

When mast cells in the conjunctiva come into contact with an allergen, they release a chemical called histamine, which stimulates the nerves in the eye, making it itchy and watery. The eye is trying to remove the allergen, not realizing that it is harmless.

The release of histamine also causes dilation of the blood vessels on the surface of the eye, which makes your eyes red.”

Most allergens are seasonal, which in most cases last between four to six weeks.

Here are the best -and safest- ways to manage your eyes this allergy season:

  • Get in the habit of checking your local pollen forecast, which provides you with a daily outlook on the types and severity of pollen in the air.
  • Pick up over-the-counter eye drops, or speak with your local eye doctor about prescription eye drops if discomfort persists.
  • Place cold compresses on your eyes, this can help relieve the itching sensation.
  • Despite temptation, DO NOT RUB YOUR EYES, as this will only make your eyes worse and can potentially cause long-term damage.

If you’re experiencing persistent eye discomfort as a result of seasonal allergies, be sure to book an appointment with us to discuss your options.

Welcome New Staff Member

Generations Eye Care would like to welcome the newest member of our dispensary team.

On behalf of Dr Al-Bekai and all the staff at Generations Eye Care, we would like to welcome, Shirley to our optometry team. 

Shirley has many years of retail service and is settling in quite nicely here at Genertions Eye Care. She is eager to learn and enjoys assisting all patients in selecting new eye wear!!

Eyeglasses – Plenty of Great Choices

New options to help you look good and see better!

Picking out new eyeglasses can be a daunting task, whether you're getting your very first pair or you've worn them nearly all your life. The sheer volume of eyeglass choices can be torture to work your way through if you don't have any idea what you're looking for.

Not only are there many different shapes and colors in eyeglass frames, but advances in technology have also brought us a variety of new materials, for both the frames and the lenses, which makes eyeglasses more durable, lightweight and user-friendly. Eyeglass frames are now created from high-tech materials such as titanium and "memory metal" for the ultimate in strength and style, while the lenses are now thinner and lighter than ever before, even in high prescriptions.

Lens options, such as anti-reflective coating, light-changing tints, progressive lenses and new high-tech, light weight materials such as Trivex(TM) and polycarbonate, let you choose a pair of eyeglasses that enhances your vision, no matter what you like to do.


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Pink, Stinging Eyes?

Conjunctivitis, also called pink eye, is one of the most frequently seen eye diseases, especially in kids. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria or even allergies to pollen, chlorine in swimming pools, and ingredients in cosmetics, or other irritants, which touch the eyes. Some forms of conjunctivitis might be quite transmittable and quickly spread in school and at the office.

Conjunctivitis is seen when the conjunctiva, or thin transparent layer of tissue covering the white part of the eye, becomes inflamed. You can identify conjunctivitis if you notice eye redness, discharge, itching or swollen eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes early in the day. Pink eye infections can be divided into three main types: viral, allergic and bacterial conjunctivitis.

The viral type is usually a result of a similar virus to that which produces the recognizable red, watery eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. The red, itchy, watery eyes caused by viral pink eye are likely to last from a week to two and then will clear up on their own. You may however, be able to reduce some of the discomfort by using soothing drops or compresses. Viral pink eye is transmittable until it is completely cleared up, so in the meantime maintain excellent hygiene, remove eye discharge and try to avoid using communal pillowcases or towels. If your son or daughter has viral conjunctivitis, he or she will have to be kept home from school for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.

A bacterial infection such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus is usually treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. One should notice an improvement within just a few days of antibiotic drops, but be sure to adhere to the full prescription dosage to prevent pink eye from recurring.

Allergic pink eye is not contagious. It is usually a result of a known allergy such as hay fever or pet allergies that sets off an allergic reaction in their eyes. First of all, to treat allergic pink eye, you should eliminate the irritant. Use cool compresses and artificial tears to relieve discomfort in mild cases. When the infection is more severe, your eye doctor might prescribe a medication such as an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. In cases of chronic allergic pink eye, topical steroid eye drops could be used.

Pink eye should always be diagnosed by a qualified eye doctor in order to identify the type and best course of treatment. Never treat yourself! Keep in mind the sooner you begin treatment, the lower chance you have of giving pink eye to loved ones or prolonging your discomfort.