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Ultraviolet Light and your Eyes

If you want strong, healthy eyes and clear vision for life, a major step you can take is to protect your eyes from UV radiation.  Wearing proper eye protection from the sun reduces the risk of a number of eye diseases and other conditions that are caused or worsened by UV exposure.  

Eye Diseases Linked to UV Exposure

UV exposure has been linked to a number of serious eye diseases including macular degeneration and cataracts. 

Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is a condition in which the macula of the eye breaks down, leading to a loss of central vision and is a leading cause of age-related vision loss.  Macular degeneration develops over time so a lifetime of exposure to UV can contribute it’s likelihood.  

Cataracts

Cataracts occur when the natural lens of the eye becomes clouded, resulting in blurred vision and eventually blindness. The len is responsible for focusing the light that comes into the eye, allowing clear vision. Cataracts can be treated by a simple surgery to replace the clouded lens with an artificial lens.  UV light contributes to certain types of cataracts, which account for about 10% of all cases. 

Skin Cancer

Another serious disease that can affect the eyes is skin cancer which can appear on the eyelids or the area around the eyes.  Skin cancer is known to be linked to extended exposure to UV and your eyes can be a difficult area to protect with sun block as you don’t want it to get too close to the eyes. 

Other Eye Conditions Linked to UV Exposure

Photokeratitis or Corneal Sunburn

Photokeratitis or a corneal sunburn in layman’s terms can occur with intense exposure to the sun without proper eye protection. It is commonly experienced after a day skiing or snowboarding at a high altitude or at the beach. Corneal sunburns can be extremely painful and can sometimes cause a temporary loss of vision. 

Pterygium 

Pterygium, also known as “surfer’s eye” is a growth that forms on the conjunctiva which is a layer over the sclera or the white part of your eye. Sometimes they grow onto the cornea as well. Often pterygia are harmless but if they grow too large they may begin to impact your vision. In this case, surgery may be necessary. Pterygia are commonly found in individuals who spend a significant amount of time outside in the sun or wind. 

How to Properly Protect Your Eyes From UV

The more time you spend outside, the greater the risk for your eyes, however you can easily minimize this risk with proper protection. Here are a few tips to ensure you are doing what you can to safeguard your eyes:

Proper Sunglasses

Fully protective sunglasses should block out 99-100% of UV-A and UV-B rays. You can achieve this through purchasing a pair of sunglasses, applying a UV blocking coating to your glasses or opting for photochromic lenses which are eyeglass lenses which turn dark when exposed to sunlight. Most contact lenses will also have UV protection but this is just for the area of the eye covered by the lens. 

Since UV exposure can enter from the air, the ground or from the sides, wrap-around and large lensed frames can provide added protection.

Add a Wide Brimmed Hat

A wide brimmed hat or visor will stop about half of the UV rays from even reaching your eyes as well as reduce the exposure coming in from the top or sides of your sunglass frames. 

Know Your Environmental Risk Factors

UV exposure is largely dependent upon your location and your surroundings. If you are located at a high altitude you will likely be exposed to more UV than at lower altitudes.  UV also reflects off of snow, sand, water and even asphalt so be aware that you are getting increased exposure under these conditions.   

Know Your Additional Risk Factors

There are a number of other factors that can increase your exposure or risk of eye damage from UV.  For example, certain medications increase the sensitivity of your eyes and skin to sunlight (speak to your doctor about any medications you are on). Previous eye surgery or eye diseases can also increase your risk factors for UV eye damage. Additionally if you work in certain fields such as welding or medical scans or radiation or use tanning beds, you can be exposed to additional UV radiation. If there is nothing you can do to change your exposure, make sure you are properly protecting your eyes with goggles or glasses and a hat. 

Regular Eye Exams

Make sure you schedule a comprehensive eye exam on a regular basis to ensure your eyes are healthy.  If you are over 50 or have increased risk factors for eye disease, you should schedule exams at least on a yearly basis or according to your eye doctor’s recommendations. 

 

The Dangers of An Online Eye Test

An online eye test may seem like a convenient way to check your vision or get an eyeglass prescription but beware, these tests aren’t all they are chocked up to be. In fact, they may even be dangerous. 

What is an online eye test really testing? 

An online eye test is actually not an eye test at all but just a vision or sight test – and a partial test at that.  It is designed to measure your visual acuity and refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism) and to determine an eyeglass prescription – which is the lens power needed to correct the refractive error in your vision. 

Given that there is no one with medical training actually performing or checking the accuracy of the test, it is questionable how well the exam does even this. In fact, when an eye doctor does a refraction for glasses or contact lenses it also involves some judgement on the doctor’s part.  The eye doctor will often adjust the prescription slightly based on the patient’s age, occupation or hobbies.  The doctor may prescribe a prism in the lenses to help with binocularity and to prevent double vision in those who have deviations of the eye. There is no way an online exam can do any of this. 

Further, a refraction is only one very small part of an eye exam and if it takes the place of a regular comprehensive eye exam by an eye doctor, you put your eyes and vision at serious risk. 

A Comprehensive Eye Exam – Where Online Tests Fail

Even if the eyes see clearly and you have 20/20 vision, there may still be vision problems or eye disease present even without pain, blurred vision or other symptoms.  What the online eye test fails to measure is your complete visual health and capacity (beyond just visual acuity), the curvature of the eye (which is needed for accurate lens prescriptions- especially for contact lenses) and an assessment of the health of the eye itself. 

Just as we need regular medical and dental checkups as a part of preventative health care to prevent disease and maintain our health, we also need regular eye exams. A vision test  does not suffice. A comprehensive eye exam will examine much more than just how well you see. It will also check for visual processing, color vision, depth perception and proper eye movement.  It will measure your eye pressure, examine the back of your eye and look for early signs of eye disease or conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetes, tumors and high blood pressure – many of which threaten your eyes and vision if not caught early. 

If you do have some vision loss, the doctor will be able to determine if there is any serious underlying problem that is causing the disturbance in your vision. If you don’t have symptoms that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Many serious eye conditions develop gradually without any symptoms. Some eye diseases do not affect the macula, and therefore you may still have good vision even though there is a problem (such as glaucoma, early dry macular degeneration, early cataract, diabetes, blood pressure and even tumors). Many of these conditions threaten the eyes and even general health if not caught early and when undetected they can cause permanent and irreversible damage to your vision 

Eye exams are the best way to detect these early and treat them before they develop into serious eye problems. 

Whether online vision tests are inaccurate, misleading or simply insufficient, they can fail to provide essential information and can delay or prevent vision saving treatments. Additionally, you could be walking around with the wrong vision prescription which can cause unnecessary eye strain, headaches and difficulty.  

Will an Online Eye Test Really Save you Money?

No. Besides the fact that most eye exams are covered by insurance, the eye exam you are getting from an eye doctor is much more thorough and comprehensive than an online eye test, so you are not comparing apples to apples.  The eye doctor’s exam uses real equipment and performs a complete and professional evaluation of your vision and eye health. There is simply no comparing this to a self administered test on a computer screen. 

An online eye test may be touted as a time and money saving convenience however, that is hardly the case. An eye exam is a medical procedure that requires training, precision, and proper equipment.  Anything less can put your eyes and vision at serious risk. 

 

Ocular Migraines

Migraine Awareness Month:

An ocular migraine is any migraine headache that involves a visual disturbance such as flashes of light, seeing stars or zigzags or the appearance of blind spots in the visual field. Ocular migraines can interfere with your ability to go about your daily tasks such as driving, reading or writing, however, the visual symptoms don’t last long and do go away completely once the migraine has passed. 

What is an Ocular Migraine?

The term ocular migraine may refer to a couple of different conditions. Firstly, migraines with auras often have eye-related symptoms that precede the actual headache. An aura is a physical symptom that is experienced usually within 5 minutes to an hour before a migraine comes on, and can include:

  • Blind spots (scotomas) or partial vision loss
  • Flashes of light, spots or zigzag patterns
  • Visual, auditory (hearing) or olfactory (smell) hallucinations or disruptions
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Mental fog, trouble finding words and speaking

These types of ocular migraines commonly appear by obstructing a small area of vision which spreads gradually over 5 minutes. 

A second type of ocular migraine is when you actually experience temporary vision loss or disruptions (flashes, blind spots, zigzag lines etc.) during or immediately following the migraine headache. Ocular migraines can also sometimes appear without any head pain at all. They may also be called eye, ophthalmic, or retinal migraines. 

What Causes Ocular Migraines?

Similar to classic migraines, the exact cause of an ocular migraine is unknown. Genetic predisposition seems to be a factor to some extent, and having a family history of migraines does put you at greater risk. 

While they don’t know the cause, experts have seen that spasms in the blood vessels and nerve cells in the retinal lining at the back of the eye are associated with ocular migraine symptoms. 

For some, there are certain environmental triggers, or a combination of factors, that cause migraines. These differ on an individual basis but can include:

  • Stress
  • Bright lights or loud sounds
  • Strong smells
  • A sudden or drastic change in weather conditions
  • Eating, or exposure to, certain food substances such as, alcohol, caffeine, nitrates, MSG (monosodium glutamate), artificial sweeteners and tyramine. 

Since triggers are different for everyone it’s advised to try to identify yours by keeping a journal to track your environment, diet and lifestyle habits, when you experience a headache. 

Treatment for Ocular Migraines

Treatment for ocular migraines is usually not necessary as the symptoms typically resolve themselves within 30 minutes. It is advised to rest and avoid doing things that require vision and concentration until the headache goes away and the vision symptoms cease. If you are experiencing an ocular headache:

  • Lie down in a quiet, dark room when possible
  • Massage or apply pressure to the temples and scalp
  • Apply a damp towel to the forehead

If you experience auras, taking a migraine medication when the aura occurs, can often reduce the intensity of the headache that follows. In other words, you can use the aura as a warning sign that a headache is coming on and treat it preventatively. Your doctor may prescribe a pain reliever for associated head pain and, if migraines are chronic, a preventative medication may be given. 

It’s important to note that if you are experiencing any unusual visual symptoms or an increase in frequency or duration of symptoms, you should see an eye doctor right away to rule out any serious, vision threatening conditions. Symptoms such as floaters or flashing lights can also be a sign of a retinal tear or hole. 

If you get migraines, among the best ways to prevent them are to keep your mind and body healthy by eating nutritious foods, getting enough rest and managing stress effectively. 

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