“Surfing” not safe for eyes

“Surfing” not safe for eyesSouth Africans who are as at home surfing the Internet as they are at catching waves are in double danger of damaging their eyes.

South Africans who are as at home surfing the Internet as they are at catching waves are in double danger of damaging their eyes.

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South Africans who are as at home surfing the Internet as they are at catching waves are in double danger of damaging their eyes.

Eye strain caused by computers is becoming so widespread in the developed world that ophthalmologists have started referring to “computer vision syndrome”.

Computers are the number one cause of eyestrain in the US. Most humans are born far-sighted, from our time when we were roaming the plains as hunter-gatherers. Our eyes are more relaxed when focusing on things a little distance from us, than when they are focusing on a flickering computer screen a few centimetres away.

Research has also shown that computer users only blink about seven times a minute, in contrast to the normal rate of 22 blinks a minute. This means there is more evaporation from the computer users’€™ eyes, so eyes get dry and itchy. In addition, their eyes tire more so there is a greater risk of eye strain.

Wave surfers and those who spend a lot of time outdoors face eye damage from the ultraviolet light from the sun. UV radiation increases a person’€™s chances of developing cataracts, a leading eye problem countrywide.

Cataracts, or the clouding of the lens of the eye, are caused by chemicals called “free radicals” which are formed by metabolism (the chemical processes within a living cell necessary for the maintenance of life). Free radicals make the eye’€™s lens harden and lose the ability to focus. UV light promotes free radical damage to the lens.

UV can also permanently damage the retina, which is the lining of the eye used for seeing — as some luckless eclipse gazers discovered recently.

The effects of UV are cumulative, meaning that the more a person is exposed to UV, the greater the danger of cataracts developing.

Cataracts are the main cause of blindness worldwide. First signs are blurry vision, especially in bright light, loss of night vision and needing more light to read by.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, “a day on the beach without proper eye protection can cause a temporary, but painful burn to the surface of the eye (cornea), similar to a sunburn on the skin.

“Artificial light from sources like welding arcs or tanning beds, and reflected sunlight (from snow, for example) are particularly dangerous.”

To counteract UV rays, ophthalmologists suggest that whenever you are doing anything in the sun, wear sunglasses with gray, green or brown lenses that offer 100% UV protection.

Cataracts are not only caused by UV light, though. Nutritional deficiencies, certain drugs such as steroids, smoking, diabetes, high alcohol intake and physical injuries that hamper the eye’€™s movements can also lead to cataracts.

However, cataracts can be removed successfully through simple surgery which usually involves fitting an artificial lens into the lens capsule.

Astigmatism is another common eye problem. This is when the cornea is shaped more like an oblong rugby ball than the normal round soccer ball. The oblong shape causes light rays to focus on two points in the back of your eye, rather than on just one. It causes blurred vision which can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

Glaucoma is another fairly common eye complaint. This is internal eye pressure caused by an excess fluid build up in the eye. It can damage the optic nerve and result in severe vision loss. Glaucoma can usually be treated with eye drops or medicine, but as its symptoms are often not painful it is often detected late.

Indications of possible eye problems in children:

  • Frequent rubbing or blinking of the eyes
  • Short attention span
  • Poor reading
  • Frequent headaches
  • A drop in scholastic or sports performance
  • Covering one eye
  • Tilting the head when reading
  • Squinting one or both eyes
  • Placing head close to book or desk when reading or writing
  • Difficulty remembering, identifying and reproducing basic geometric forms
  • Poor eye-hand co-ordination.

Q & A with eye specialist.

Ophthalmic surgeon Dr Farouk Moosa runs the Eye and Laser Clinic, the only centre of its kind in KwaZulu-Natal. He has been an eye specialist for the past 16 years, and has helped countless patients to better eyesight.

Q: What are the most common eye problems in South Africa?

Dr Moosa: Cataracts are a big problem, and in the public sector there is a big backlog for cataract surgery. People may wait for three of four years before they can have their operation. Eye problems related to diabetes are also common. Glaucoma is also a common problem, as are various infections of the eye like conjunctivitis.

Q: How would you advise people to take better care of their eyes?

Moosa: Protecting the eyes from the sun is very important, so a decent pair of sunglasses is important especially if you are the outdoor type.

If there is any discomfort with the eyes or if they don’€™t feel right, a person should have it seen to right away.

Diabetics and people with high cholesterol need to have regular check-ups as these conditions can affect the eyesight.

Q: Who can consider laser surgery and how is it done?

Moosa: Anyone over the age of 18 who wears glasses for distance can have laser surgery. In other words, it is for people who are short-sighted or with astigmatism. It takes about 10 minutes per eye, and the procedure flattens the cornea and makes it slightly thinner. The success rate is almost 100%. In 5-10% of cases, there has to be a redo. In these cases, the eyes have been improved but need just a little more to make them 100%. Then a person doesn’€™t have to wear glasses again for the rest of their lives.

Q: How are cataracts removed?

Moosa: We use sutureless surgery, which means that there are no stitches. It is about a 30-minute procedure and the patient can be home within an hour. They come in the following day for a check-up and to have the eye patch removed. After that, no further follow-up is necessary.