When it comes to nutrition, we rarely talk about eyes. We uphold our hearts, our hands, and even our feet as some of our most daily used body parts, but how often do we consider our eyes? Our eyes are used in every second that we’re awake, so it is important to ensure we know the basics surrounding eye health.
Our eyes are organs that have the unique ability to collect light to carry information to our brains, which then shows us our position relative to our surroundings, as well as all the details of color, texture, and distance of everyday objects. It’s a beautiful process that allows us to experience color, perceive emotion in people’s faces, and so much more.
How exactly does the eye capture and send the information that we see to the brain?
A layer of neurons known as the retina lines the back of our eye and collects the light that is reflected off the objects we see. Two types of cells make up the retina: rods and cones. Both rods and cones have unique abilities because of their different shapes. Rods are mixed with cones in the retina because they provide peripheral vision and can detect the smallest amounts of light. Night vision is the responsibility of the rod cells and allows us to see in low light. All the wavelengths of visible light can be detected by our cone cells and give us the ability to see color. There are also specific cells within the eyes that detect light intensity throughout the day to help modulate the circadian rhythm or sleep cycle.
Every type of signal originating from the eyes is transported by a pair of optic nerves that follow a pathway to the extreme rear of the brain called the occipital lobe. In the occipital lobe, all the visual information is processed to help us distinguish what we see and store necessary visual material for later use.
Did you know that our eyes begin developing during the third week of embryonic growth? The young brain has a part of the brain called the diencephalon, which is where our eyes emerge. The diencephalon has two buds that grow into the eyes and optic nerves. Technically, the retina of the eye is brain tissue, so when you see the eye you can see a part of the brain!
Eyes are very important because they are nerve tissue that can be damaged by strain. It’s important to remember that eyes are to be maintained, and damage is rarely or never reversed. The eye is an organ that can be damaged by district physical contact, or by eyestrain. Eyestrain can be a result of long reading or any other activities where we need to focus for long periods of time. Unsurprisingly, using monitors or small phone displays has now become the leading cause of eyestrain.
Screen time is a major causative agent of eyestrain.
On average, the average screen time for a typical American is estimated at about ten hours per day. Constant phone use, along with computer-reliant jobs has made electronic screen time a problem. A noteworthy fact is that screen time is also an issue for today’s children, with TV, tablets, phones, and laptops being their main source of entertainment, whether it’s for educational or non-educational use. Three major issues arise from exurbanite screen time:
Increased risk of obesity, or diabetes, from lack of physical activity.
Sleep loss from sleep cycle disruption
Eye strain from media use fatigue
Overuse of the eye from constantly looking at a screen can stress the nerves and muscles of the eye. If you feel pain or soreness around the eye, or notice yourself squinting more often than normal, or experience blurred vision, you may be suffering from eye strain. Headaches can also be a symptom of eye strain so if you feel an unexpiated headache, be sure to think about eye strain as a possible cause.
What are some ways to limit eyestrain?
In a busy, media-driven workplace, it can be a challenge to find relief from the proverbial “screen of death.” Schools and workplaces can have our eyes jumping from reading the small print on paper documents to reading graphs and reports on our computer screens, not to mention the intermittent “breaks” we take to scroll through social media on our phones. Taking breaks from our screens or textbooks can help a great deal. Try taking a break every 45 minutes to rest your eyes by closing them and, even better, standing up at the same time for up to three minutes.
Apple implemented a new app to remind us to limit our media use. The app will show us how much time we spend on our phones, as well as how much of that time is used for social media. The idea of seeing how much time we waste can be quite the reality check and particularly worrisome when we realize how much we tax our eyes. Without something like this app, how aware would you be of your electronic use and the real damage you’re having on your eyes?
Diabetes’ impact on eyes
There are diseases that can also cause permanent damage to eye tissue. Diabetes is a disease that increases the risk of eye issues. Prevalence of eye problems such as blurred vision and vision loss is extremely high in diabetics. Prolonged high blood sugar from diabetes can damage the delicate blood vessels that supply the retina with oxygen and nutrients. Fluid can escape from these damaged vessels and add pressure within the retina.
Elevated pressure within the eye and eye vessels is the biggest eye problem. Damage to the retina caused by diabetes is called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy can be treated by laser surgery to fix damaged blood vessels, but it’s always better to catch the disease in its early stages.
Screening for diabetic retinopathy is essential to maintaining eye health in diabetic patients, so be sure to receive screening for eye issues before you see any symptoms. The screening test for diabetic retinopathy is a simple dilated eye exam where the pupil of the eye is dilated, and the eye is examined for signs of multiple diseases.
The National Eye Institute recommends a yearly screening for diabetics to make sure eyes stay healthy. As mentioned, eye injury is rarely reversed so when you notice blurred vision or loss, it is usually already at an advanced stage. Be sure to screen your eyes early and keep diabetes under control.
The habit of smoking has many associated health hazards, with eye injury being one of those hazards. Smoke-related retinopathy, cataracts, and macular degeneration are a few of the health problems caused by smoking. There are many reasons to stop smoking and eye health is a major one. Taking steps like speaking with your doctor and asking for support from family, friends, and other healthcare workers can move you forward in the steps to stop the smoking addiction and on to healthier eyes.
Another major disease that causes vision loss is macular degeneration. The middle of the retina is responsible for sharp vision because it has special concentrations of pigments to pick up the light we need to focus on a single object. This specialized middle area of the retina is called the macula, or more technically, the macula lutea; which means “spot” and “yellow” in Latin. Yellow pigment in the macula comes from the two pigments, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Macular degeneration, or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), can cause vision loss or blurriness in the areas where we focus. Loss of visual focus can hinder reading, recognition of faces, and the ability to see well when we drive. Lifestyle diseases are strongly linked to AMD and studies have expressed that prevention and good nutrition are ways to avoid AMD.
Nutrition, as it relates to the eyes, might seem like a new topic to some but there are a few nutritional facts that can benefit us as we take better care of our eyes. A balanced intake of vitamin C and E, omega-3 fatty acids, with carotenoids including lutein and zeaxanthin in a healthy diet are recommended for maintaining healthy eyes. High-fat diets, with consumption of trans-fatty acids, can lead to unhealthy eyes. If you are at risk of diabetes or have diabetes it is also helpful to eat foods with a low glycemic index, or foods that don’t cause rapid spikes in blood sugar.