Q&A with Lighthouse International Low Vision Eye Doctor Linda Pang, OD
Q: Women typically coordinate health care for the entire family, so why are they at higher risk of developing health problems, including eye disease?
A: Studies have shown that women make 90% of the health care decisions for their family members, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, but pay less attention to their own health care needs, especially if they’re busy caring for a sick loved one.
To be an effective caregiver, you need to be in good physical and mental health yourself. Studies have shown that caregivers have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, depression and anxiety. Women’s health exams are necessary to promote wellness, as well as to identify and manage disease. One of these essential health exams is a regular, comprehensive dilated eye exam. Some eye diseases have no early warning signs or symptoms, and can only be detected by an eye doctor. And because women live longer than men, women are more likely to develop age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
Q: I’ve heard that “the eyes are the windows to your health.” What does that mean?
A: The eyes are the only organ in the body that allow doctors a direct non-invasive view of blood circulation, how well your blood vessels are functioning and other ocular structures that are involved with eye health and systemic health. Comprehensive dilated eye examinations can not only identify vision problems, but also can reveal warning signs of serious diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, stroke and some forms of cancer.
Q: I know that regular exercise has many health benefits. Does that include eye health?
A: Yes. Research studies have shown that aerobic exercise improves the flow of blood to the retina and optic nerve.
For people with glaucoma, jogging or a brisk walk for 20 minutes a day, at least four times a week, lowers intraocular pressure (IOP). Exercise that raises your pulse by 20-25% will lower IOP and, as a result, protect retinal ganglion cells. If you have glaucoma, avoid inverted poses (i.e., head stands or shoulder stands) because there’s evidence that they can actually increase IOP. If you have any concerns about your current exercise routine and its effects on IOP, consult with your ophthalmologist or optometrist.
By exercising regularly, your overall systemic health benefits from improved blood pressure control, blood circulation and cardiac function. If not controlled, high blood pressure, along with high cholesterol, can be risk factors for eye diseases as well.
Q: I’ve heard that Latisse® can be used to make my eyelashes grow thicker and longer. Is it safe to use?
A: Latisse® is a prescription medication for people who have inadequate or not enough eyelashes. When used, the thickness, length, pigmentation and direction of eyelash growth may differ between your two eyes; and your lashes will return to their previous appearance once you stop using Latisse®. Because of the side effects associated with Latisse®, it must be used under the supervision of a physician. Side effects include: itchiness, redness of eyes, darkening of the eyelid skin where Latisse® is applied and increased brown pigmentation of the iris (colored part of eye), which can be permanent.
If you experience a decrease in vision, have eye surgery, or develop any eyelid reactions or conjunctivitis while using Latisse®, seek immediate care from your eye doctor.
Q: It would be fun to change my eye color with cosmetic colored or decorative contact lenses. Why do they require a prescription?
A: In the US, all contact lenses legally require an eye doctor’s prescription — whether for vision correction, cosmetic or decorative purposes — because they’re all considered to be a medical device according to the US Food and Drug Administration. All contact lenses fit on the surface of the eye, so cosmetic and decorative lenses present the same risks for causing eye infections or corneal ulcers as contact lenses used for vision correction. Any lenses obtained without: a prescription, proper fitting, proper wearing schedule, appropriate training for insertion and removal, and proper lens disinfection can result in complications such as allergic reactions, bacterial eye infections and corneal abrasions. If untreated, serious bacterial eye infections, corneal abrasions and corneal ulcers can result in permanent vision loss.
It’s also important to note that you should never share any contact lenses with others because serious eye infections with a potential for vision loss can result.