According to the NZ Association of Optometrists, New Zealand optometrists perform over 1 million eye examinations every year, and over half of people who are tested will benefit from glasses or contact lenses. However, a visit to the optometrist is not just about glasses; serious eye disease can sneak up on you unnoticed. The best way to make sure you keep good vision throughout life is to identify eye disease and begin treatment early.
Changes in the eye can also be an early sign of disease elsewhere in the body.
Most people should have a routine eye check up with an optometrist every two years. For some people, this should happen more often, depending on their age, family history and eye health.
If you have an unexpected change in your vision, for example:
- a shadow falling across your vision
- a straight edge, such as door frame looks wobbly
- bright flashes, or dark blotches in your vision that you have not noticed before
Then don’t wait for your next routine appointment, book a visit with your optometrist straight away. The optometrist will be able to examine your eyes and reassure you, begin treatment, or refer you on for specialist help if needed.
You might have heard stories that looking at a computer or phone screen too long will damage your eyes, but there is no evidence that supports this theory. It is a good idea, however, to give your eyes a rest from looking at a screen- just as it’s a good idea to get up and move around if you work at a desk.
If you need glasses, make sure you wear them when looking at a screen, and have the screen set up at, or just below, eye level.
One of the good things about using a screen is that you can change the size of the text, and the contrast, to make it easier to read. Find out more about how to do this. [link to page on changing magnification settings on PCs/mobile/tablet].
If you’re out in the sun, it’s important to protect your eyes from damage. UV light damage has been linked to cataracts[link to cataracts page], and there is a possible link between UV light and age-related macular degeneration.
Unlike some other countries, sunglasses don’t have to meet a certain standard of protection to be sold in New Zealand. It’s important to make sure that the sunglasses you buy offer good UV and sun protection, and of course to wear them whenever you’re out in the sunshine.
Consumer.org.nz tested 60 different types of sunglasses for eye protection- read their review.
You already know that smoking is bad for you, but did you know it can also cause eye problems? Smokers are more likely to develop cataracts [link to cataracts page], and up to four times more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration [link to Macular Degeneration site].
If you need help to quit smoking, talk to your doctor or contact Quitline.
Eating a healthy diet including a variety of vegetables and leafy greens is important. Although there’s no evidence to suggest that a healthy diet will prevent specific eye conditions, it can help prevent diabetes and reduce the risk of a stroke- both health problems which can affect your eyesight.
Accidents and Injuries
If you or someone you’re with injures their eye, it’s important to get them help as quickly as possible. Visit the St John Ambulance website’s Eye Injuries page for some excellent advice on what to do.
Accidents happen when doing DIY, and ones that cause eye damage are no exception. Make sure that you wear safety glasses/goggles if you’re doing anything where something might fly off and hit you. It could be a wooden splinter (carpentry or assembling a piece of furniture), grit (working with concrete slabs), a chemical (painting a ceiling, stripping paint), metal (welding or metalwork), or bits of insulation if you’re insulating your home.
It’s also important to keep the goggles or glasses on- especially if you need to take a closer look at something.
Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before touching or rubbing your eyes if you’ve been doing DIY.
As with DIY, it’s a good idea to wear glasses or sunglasses of some kind when working on your garden to prevent things poking you in the eye- or splinters flying up and hitting your eyes while pruning.
If you have canes in your garden for tomatoes, raspberries etc, one good idea is to put an empty soft drink can on the top of the cane, upside down- put the top of the cane inside using the hole in the can. This can help prevent the canes poking you in the eye if you bend down while weeding/pruning.
Again, as with DIY, you should also make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after gardening before touching or rubbing your eyes to prevent the risk of damage.
Under the Health and Safety act 2016, your employer is responsible for removing, or mitigating, any health and safety risks in your workplace- including things that might risk eye injury. If you are given protective gear to wear, such as safety goggles, make sure you wear them as instructed and use them correctly.
According to the Save Sight Society, more than 4000 eye injuries occur at work in New Zealand each year; many result in pain, impaired vision, time off work and some are blinded and most of these eye injuries are preventable.
To find out more about eye injuries at work, visit the Save Sight Society website.
When putting in eye drops, you need to make sure that you’ve washed your hands before doing anything else.
Tilt your head and look at the ceiling- you can do this standing, sitting, or even lying down. Choose the position that is most comfortable for you.
Pull your lower eyelid down gently, to form a ‘pocket’ to catch the eye drops.
Squeeze the bottle and drop ONE drop into the eye. If you miss your eye (or think you’ve missed it), let go of your lower eyelid and close your eye for 30 seconds. Use a tissue to wipe any stray eye drops away. Then try again.
A hint- if you can’t feel whether the drops have gone in, you could try storing the eye drops in the fridge- if the drops are cold it’s easier to feel where they’ve gone.
If you have to use more than one type of eye drop, wait about 3-5 minutes before applying your other eye drops. If you have to use ointment as well as eye drops, use the eye drops first, then wait 5 minutes before applying the ointment. This helps you make sure the medicine has time to do its work.
Make sure you wash your hands again after you’ve put the drops in.
Dos and Don’ts
- Replace the cap on the bottle as soon as you’ve used the eye drops.
- Talk to your doctor if you have any questions
- Contact Blind Low Vision NZ if you’re a client and are having trouble using your eye drops (see below).
- Let other people use your eye drops- or any medicine you’ve been prescribed by a healthcare professional.
- Touch your eye, eyelid, or anything else with the nozzle on the bottle- this makes sure the nozzle stays clean.
- Wear contact lenses if you’re using eye drops, unless your doctor says you can.
Still having problems putting in your eye drops?
If you’re a Blind Low Vision NZ client or member and you’re having difficulty putting in your eye drops, ask for a referral to the Adaptive Daily Living team [link]. Our friendly specialist staff will be able to come up with a customised solution. They can also advise you if you need help storing or identifying your eye drops.
Having issues with the eye drops themselves?
If you’re having problems with the drops themselves- for example if your eyes are becoming itchy or uncomfortable, contact your eye specialist as soon as you can and let them know about the problem.
Don’t stop using the drops unless advised to do so by a healthcare professional, but do speak up. You can become sensitive to ingredients in your eye drops, even after years of trouble-free use- your doctor will be able to prescribe a more comfortable alternative.