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House call: You only have two eyes, so it pays to take care of them

A month ago I talked about oral health, two weeks ago about taking care of your ears, and this week I’d like to cover your eye health.

A great place to start taking care of your vision is your diet. This will sound familiar: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially from the kale and broccoli family and get most of your protein from beans, nuts, fish and lean meats to help get to or maintain a healthy weight and avoid type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults.

Quit or don’t start smoking. Smoking increases your risk of cataracts, optic nerve damage, and macular degeneration.

If you are outdoors a lot, sunglasses are more than just a fashion statement. The right pair can protect your eyes from ultraviolet light that the sun produces. Exposure to UV rays makes you more likely to develop cataracts and macular degeneration. I’ve been pretty obsessive about sunglasses ever since my days of paying for college as a bank messenger/driver in Portland. I even wear them on cloudy days. Get sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.

If you work in a job with hazardous materials or situations where you are at risk of foreign objects getting into your eyes, your employer must provide protective eyewear. Wear the eyewear provided to protect your eyes from splashes and airborne contaminants and objects that could damage your eyes. The same goes with activities outside of work where something might accidentally fly into your eye.

It’s also a good idea to wear protective eyewear in sports where eye injuries are particularly likely to happen, such as basketball, racquetball, and baseball.

Lastly, you need to get eye exams on a regular basis. Eye exams are about more than just determining whether you need corrective lenses. They can also find diseases that can be treated so that your vision is preserved.

Aside from regular eye exams, you may be wondering what kind of eye conditions should be checked out by a doctor. You should seek emergency care if you experience any of the following:

Eye pain that is unusually severe or you also have a headache, fever, sensitivity to light, nausea, or vomiting

Sudden vision changes

Eye pain that is caused by getting a chemical or a foreign object in your eye

Sudden halos around lights

Swelling in or around your eyes

Trouble moving one or both of your eyes

Inability to open or keep open one or both eyes

Blood or pus coming from an eye

Some eye conditions can be treated at home. Following are some examples and what you should do.

Crusty eye lashes can be cleaned with a mixture of baby shampoo and water, about 1:1. Dip a cotton swab in the solution and with your eye closed scrub your eyelashes. I tell my patients that it is like flossing your eyes.

Pink eye is usually caused by a virus. It’s like a cold affecting the eyes. You can use cool compresses to make it less uncomfortable while it clears up on its own. If it is severe or there is marked redness or pus it may be bacterial and you should see your health care provider.

A stye is like a painful pimple on your eyelid and can be treated at home with warm compresses three to four times a day for a week or so. You should not wear eye makeup or contact lenses until the stye is gone.

You only get one set of eyes so take good care of them.

Dr. Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.


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