Dr. Natalia Nowakowska, Optometry Partner, Specsavers CF Sherway Gardens in Toronto
As the saying goes, “The eyes are the windows to the soul,” but more accurately, they actually reveal a lot about our overall well-being. “Your eyes can tell us a lot about your general health,” says optometrist Dr. Natalia Nowakowska, who owns and operates her clinic within a Toronto-based Specsavers. “This is why, even if your vision hasn’t changed, it’s important to have your eyes tested regularly every one-to-two years. Regular comprehensive eye exams can play an important role in identifying significant health conditions including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and even certain tumours.”
Getting our eyes checked regularly is an important part of maintaining good health, but many of us put it off—often until we experience an issue. This is a less-than-ideal strategy, as most vision loss is preventable and treatable, according to a recent survey conducted by Specsavers and The Canadian Council of the Blind, half of Canadians don’t know this. Not having this knowledge means you may not take the appropriate preventative measures. To better understand what can affect your vision, we are taking a look at the roles our lifestyle and hormones play when it comes to our vision.
Hormones play a big role in women’s overall eye health through different stages of their lives. “Hormonal fluctuations can lead to dry eyes, blurred vision, changes in ocular pressure, and floaters in your vision,” says Dr. Nowakowska. A decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels, often seen during menopause, can lead to a decrease in the quantity and quality of tear film, leading to symptoms such as burning/stinging, watery eyes, increased light sensitivity and blurred vision. Similarly, during pregnancy, hormonal changes can increase water retention throughout the body, changing the shape of the eye, which can result in fluctuating vision. If you experience any of these symptoms it is important to have your eyes examined.
Dr. Nowakowska also notes that several medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, Sjogren’s syndrome and gestational diabetes affect females disproportionally, which can result in increased risk for certain eye diseases. Not to mention that women are living longer, which can put them at greater risk of age-related eye conditions like macular degeneration and cataracts.
Many of the things we do every day affect the well-being of our eyes. “Lifestyle can play a huge factor in women’s overall eye health, including diet and exercise, avoiding smoking, minimizing screen time and using proper sun protection for your eyes,” says Dr. Nowakowska.
For example, frequently looking at a screen reduces how often you blink and can cause dry eye and eye fatigue. “In recent years, I have noted a significant increase in computer fatigue syndrome resulting in eye strain and headaches,” she says. “Patients often report fluctuations in vision after long periods of computer use. This temporary blur results from the eye over-accommodating throughout the day and is known as pseudo-myopia.” There are things you can do to reduce these symptoms including adjusting the distance between yourself and your screen, adjusting light setting on your screen, and taking eye breaks. It’s helpful for your optometrist to know how many hours a day you use screens and the kind of lighting you use at your workstation, so they can best advise on how to alleviate symptoms.
That said, don’t wait until you have symptoms before seeking eye care. Eye health may change without experiencing any difference in your vision. Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a 3D eye scan that helps optometrists see what’s going on beneath the surface of the eye and can detect sight-threatening conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration in its earliest stages. It’s worthy to note that eye exams with independent optometrists at Specsavers include, as standard, an OCT scan.
Waiting until you experience issues “is concerning because regular eye exams are crucial to maintaining overall eye health and identifying other significant health conditions,” says Dr. Nowakowska. “Many common eye diseases progress without symptoms. The good news is that 75 per cent of vision loss is preventable and treatable, but it’s critical to catch problems early,” she emphasizes, “It’s vital that all Canadians learn how important eye exams are for their health.”
To learn more or to book an eye exam, visit specsavers.ca.