June 13, 2024

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Surgeon: The five health ‘red flags’ your eyes are giving you – and the huge mistakes that can lead to vision loss and cancer

8 min read

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A leading surgeon has shared the five health warnings your eyes are giving you – and the common mistakes that could be causing irreparable damage. 

Dr Jacqueline Beltz, a Melbourne-based ophthalmologist and the Co-President of the Australasian Society for Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, is famed for her brand OKKIYO which offers a mascara specifically designed for people with sensitive eyes.

The self-confessed beauty aficionado regularly raises awareness about eye health and designed her game-changing Prioriteyes to offer a safe makeup option in the Australian market that wasn’t a standard ‘eye safe’ or ‘doctor’ brand.

Now she’s offered up her most critical pieces of advice and stresses just how important it is to see a doctor if there are sudden or persistent changes in your vision or eye health.

Dr Jacqueline Beltz (pictured) is a Melbourne-based ophthalmologist and the Co-President of the Australasian Society for Cataract and Refractive Surgeons

Dr Jacqueline Beltz (pictured) is a Melbourne-based ophthalmologist and the Co-President of the Australasian Society for Cataract and Refractive Surgeons

‘In Australia, optometrists provide our primary eye care and can look for all conditions including those that may not result in any symptoms at all until they are very advanced,’ Dr Beltz told FEMAIL.

‘Optometrists can provide a referral to an ophthalmologist as required. Early detection and intervention are key to preserving vision and maintaining overall eye health.

‘Visual loss from many eye conditions can be avoided through early detection and appropriate treatment. I recommend annual eye checks for Australians over the age of 40; this should start earlier if there is family history or any symptoms.’

She regularly raises awareness about eye health and designed her game-changing Prioriteyes mascara to offer a safe makeup option in the Australian market that wasn't a standard 'eye safe' or 'doctor' brand

She regularly raises awareness about eye health and designed her game-changing Prioriteyes mascara to offer a safe makeup option in the Australian market that wasn’t a standard ‘eye safe’ or ‘doctor’ brand

The five eye health ‘red flags’ to look for  

1. Blurry or distorted vision

Sudden or persistent blurriness or distortion in vision can be a sign of various eye conditions including refractive errors (near or far sightedness), or more serious issues like cataracts, macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy.

2. Eye pain, discomfort or sensitivity to light

Persistent eye pain, discomfort or aches can be indicative dry eye syndrome, eye infections, or uveitis (inflammation inside the eye).

3. Redness or irritation

It’s actually normal for eyes to be red occasionally, moreso on some days than others, but persistent redness or irritation, especially if accompanied by discharge, itching, burning or extreme sensitivity to light could be a sign of conjunctivitis or more serious eye conditions such as uveitis (inflammation inside the eye) or keratitis (infection of the cornea). 

Red eye is extremely important to pick up and address if you are a contact lens wearer. In this situation, contacts should be removed immediately and a visit to the optometrist or ophthalmologist should not be delayed.

Any noticeable changes in the appearance of the eye or eyelids, such as the development of lumps, bumps or growths should be evaluated by an eye care professional. These changes can indicate a variety of conditions, including styes, chalazia, eye lid cysts, or more serious issues such as skin cancers on the surface of the eye or eye lids

Any noticeable changes in the appearance of the eye or eyelids, such as the development of lumps, bumps or growths should be evaluated by an eye care professional. These changes can indicate a variety of conditions, including styes, chalazia, eye lid cysts, or more serious issues such as skin cancers on the surface of the eye or eye lids

4. ‘Floaters’ or flashes of light

The sudden appearance of floaters (cobwebs or shadows) in your vision, or flashes of light may be indicative of a retinal tear or detachment which requires immediate attention to prevent permanent visual loss.

5. Changes in eye or eyelid appearance 

Any noticeable changes in the appearance of the eye or eyelids, such as the development of lumps, bumps or growths should be evaluated by an eye care professional. 

These changes can indicate a variety of conditions, including styes, chalazia (a slowly developing lump), eye lid cysts, or more serious issues like skin cancers on the surface of the eye or eye lids. Prompt evaluation and diagnosis are essential to determine the most appropriate treatment to ensure the best outcome.

Rubbing the eyes actually compresses the delicate corneal tissue and can lead to permanent and irreversible vision loss

Rubbing the eyes actually compresses the delicate corneal tissue and can lead to permanent and irreversible vision loss

What are the biggest mistakes we are making with our eyes?

Dr Beltz also listed some of the serious yet common mistakes Aussies are making with their eyes that could lead to cancer and irreversible vision damage. 

1. Neglecting regular eye examinations

Many people only seek an eye exam when they notice a problem with their vision. However, regular eye examinations are crucial for detecting issues early on, before symptoms appear. Skipping routine check-ups can delay diagnosis and treatment of potentially serious eye conditions.

This is especially important given many eye conditions have no symptoms until it is too late. 

2. Ignoring changes in vision 

Vision changes such as blurriness, double vision, or sudden flashes of light should never be ignored. These could be signs of underlying eye conditions that require prompt attention. Delaying treatment may lead to further vision problems or permanent damage.

'Vapes can disrupt the tear film hence exacerbating dry eye and making sensitive eyes worse and we do have significant concern about the detriment that electronic cigarettes might inflict on the eyes,' Dr Beltz (pictured) said

‘Vapes can disrupt the tear film hence exacerbating dry eye and making sensitive eyes worse and we do have significant concern about the detriment that electronic cigarettes might inflict on the eyes,’ Dr Beltz (pictured) said

The optical diet: How to eat to ensure optimal eye health 

Just as eating a healthy diet supports us in maintaining general health, eating the right foods can contribute to overall eye health. The benefits of paying attention to what you eat may including reduced eye sensitivity, moisture balance and cellular support.

These steps also reflect the Australian guide to healthy eating recommendations to support overall health and wellbeing. 

Maintaining healthy eyes involves a balanced diet with a variety of whole foods and water including the following:

– Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and essential minerals can help prevent eye conditions

– A colourful mix of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, eggs, dairy products and lean meats can contribute to normal eye function

– Staying well-hydrated with sufficient water intake is important for overall eye health

It’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalised advice based on individual health needs and conditions.

3. Not wearing protective eyewear

Failing to protect the eyes during certain activities, such as using power tools, sports, gardening or DIY projects, increases the risk of eye injuries. Wearing appropriate protective eyewear, such as safety glasses or goggles, can prevent accidents and protect vision. 

‘I’ve seen so many life-changing injuries from these sorts of projects and it’s always that “one time” when it seemed minor so they didn’t bother getting the safety glasses,’ Dr Beltz said.

‘Lawn mowing is a big one, and nail guns, or anything metal on metal like hammering a nail.’

4. Overlooking UV protection

Prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun can damage the eyes and increase the risk of cataracts, skin cancers on the eyelids or surface of the eye, and other eye conditions.

5. Rubbing the eyes

Rubbing the eyes can introduce harmful viruses, bacteria and irritants, leading to infections or exacerbating existing conditions like dry eye syndrome. 

It can also cause wrinkles, but most importantly, rubbing the eyes actually compresses the delicate corneal tissue and can lead to permanent and irreversible vision loss.

People that smoke are actually six times more likely to go blind from macular degeneration compared to people that do not smoke and vaping is just as harmful. Those over 40 should have annual eye assessments

People that smoke are actually six times more likely to go blind from macular degeneration compared to people that do not smoke and vaping is just as harmful. Those over 40 should have annual eye assessments 

6. Poor contact lens hygiene

Improper care and maintenance of contact lenses, such as wearing them for too long, sleeping or swimming in them, wearing them past their use-by-date or failing to clean them properly, increases the risk of eye infections and complications.

Following proper hygiene practices prescribed by an eye care professional is essential for maintaining healthy eyes while wearing contact lenses.

7. Smoking or vaping

Smoking is not only harmful to overall health but also poses significant risks to eye health. It increases the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and other eye conditions. 

People that smoke are also actually six times more likely to go blind from macular degeneration compared to people that do not smoke.

‘The long term effects of vaping on eye health are still being studied, but we do know they can disrupt the tear film hence exacerbating dry eye and making sensitive eyes worse and we do have significant concern about the detriment that electronic cigarettes might inflict on the eyes,’ Dr Beltz said.

8. Neglecting overall health

General health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol can affect eye health and vision. 

Neglecting to manage these conditions through proper diet, exercise, medication, and regular medical check-ups can lead to vision problems and complications.

It’s essential to consult with an eye care professional if you experience persistent or severe symptoms as per above in the eyes, as they can help determine the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment. Ignoring these symptoms could lead to worsening eye health, scarring or complications, so early intervention is key. 

What could dry eyes, sensitivity or redness mean?

Dryness, redness, or sensitivity in the eyes can be symptoms of underlying issues that warrant further investigation. While these symptoms can be caused by relatively benign factors like environmental irritants or temporary allergies they can also indicate more serious conditions. 

Some potential underlying causes include: 

1. Dry eye syndrome: Chronic dryness in the eyes, often accompanied by redness, irritation, and a gritty sensation, can be indicative of dry eye syndrome. This condition occurs when the eyes do not produce enough tears or when tears evaporate too quickly.

2. Conjunctivitis: Redness, itching, and sensitivity in the eyes may be symptoms of conjunctivitis. This common eye condition can be caused by viral or bacterial infections, allergies, or irritants.

3. Allergic eye disease: Allergies to environmental triggers such as pollen, dust, pet hair, or certain cosmetics can lead to redness, itching, and sensitivity in the eyes.

In some cases, dry, red, or sensitive eyes may be symptoms of underlying conditions such as autoimmune diseases (e.g., Sjögren's syndrome), rheumatoid arthritis, or thyroid disorders

In some cases, dry, red, or sensitive eyes may be symptoms of underlying conditions such as autoimmune diseases (e.g., Sjögren’s syndrome), rheumatoid arthritis, or thyroid disorders

4. Eye infections: Infections of the eye, such as bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, can cause redness, discomfort, and sensitivity. Infections can be very serious in the setting of recent eye surgery or contact lens wear and early intervention is critical.

5. Inflammatory eye conditions: Conditions such as uveitis or blepharitis, which involve inflammation of the eye or eyelids, can cause symptoms such as redness, sensitivity to light, and discomfort.

6. Corneal problems: Issues affecting the cornea, such as abrasions, ulcers, or infections, can cause redness, pain, and sensitivity in the eyes.

7. Systemic conditions: In some cases, dry, red, or sensitive eyes may be symptoms of underlying conditions such as autoimmune diseases (e.g., Sjögren’s syndrome), rheumatoid arthritis, or thyroid disorders.

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