Spring 2010

Welcome to our spring practice newsletter. In this issue we have an article called Driving up standards, some good advice for safer driving. Here comes the sun is some useful tips to give your eyes an easier time during bright sunny weather. If you want more information about macula degeneration then read a macula conception. To find out what lens technologies are currently available the article. In the Frame is all about the latest advances in lenses.

Driving up standards

There are currently 37 million people with full UK driving licences, but although everyone likes to think they are a good driver, some people don't do enough to maximise their vision behind the wheel. A little awareness and diligence can help to protect both your eyesight and any no-claims discount.

Firstly, and perhaps most crucially, regular eye tests are vital. Being unable to read a number plate from 20 metres away ensures an automatic fail on a driving exam, but could you still pass that test today? It's particularly important to regularly monitor your eyesight if you're over the age of 50, and remember that the DVLA must be notified of conditions like cataracts or glaucoma.

Sunglasses are a valuable driving aid, since it can be difficult to make out the road ahead if the sun is directly in front of you. A key tip in choosing suitable sunglasses is to avoid frames with thick sides, which can obscure your vision at turnings and junctions. The same is true for conventional spectacles, and a dedicated pair for the glovebox might be a sound investment, since it's illegal to drive without correcting poor eyesight. Anti-reflection coatings can be applied to all new lenses and are particularly useful for avoiding headlamp dazzle at night.

Keeping your car windscren clear is important for good visibility, and not just through liberal applications of washer fluid; detritus outside the wiper blade zones can obscure peripheral vision. Dust and dirt build upon the inside as well, focusing your eyes to work harder and increasing the risk of headaches, so always keep the glass clean. Similarly, never allow the windows to mist up - peering through a foggy windscreen will strain your eyes unnecessarily as well as restricting your view.

Here comes the sun

Although people associate sun protection and the need for sunglasses with hot summer days, it's important to protect your eyes at any time of the year.

Even a crisp snowy morning can pose vision-related challenges, and a few useful tips will go a long way towards maintaining your vision and avoiding eye-related complaints throughout the year.

Sunglasses provide an easy and obvious way to prevent the long-term damage that can be caused by excessive exposure to sunlight's ultraviolet rays, although some sunglasses are more effective than others. Many people choose frames for aesthetic rather than practical reasons, but this can be misguided, especially for children, whose eyes need more protection than adults. Try to choose close-fitting designs that cover the eyes completely and wrap around the face, rather than frames you can peer over or look around. If the sun gets in your eyes around the lenses, you'll still be at considerably higher risk of developing conditions like cataracts or macular degeneration, which is discussed elsewhere in this newsletter.

Always invest in a pair of sunglasses with UV protection rather than the cheap "cosmetic" variety on sale in holiday resorts. These can actually be worse than nothing, since their dark lenses trick the pupils into dilating more, without blocking out any harmful rays. Lenses should carry CE or BS EN marks, a UV 400 label or the promise of 100 per cent UV protection; the latter is sometimes incorporated into standard spectacle lenses as well.

Indeed, it's no longer necessary to treat spectacles and sunglasses as completely distinct items which are unable to perform each other's duties, as modern lenses can be photochromic, adjusting their tints according to light levels. Certain contact lenses also have ultraviolet protection embedded into them - your optician can provide expert advice on the levels of safety provided by specific products. UV levels rise at high altitudes, in snowy conditions or closer to the equator, so make sure you pack some form of eye protection when going on holiday - even in winter. Don't assume that clouds provide shelter either, as most harmful rays simply travel through them.

Finally, here are other useful tips to give your eyes an easier time during bright sunny weather. Wide brimmed hats can reduce the amount of UV rays reaching your face, making them invaluable for sunny days - as evidenced by their regular use among sportsmen and women. A delicate application of suncream to your eyelids and brows can save a lot of subsequent discomfort in really hot climates, and unless you are specifically working on your tan, try to stay in the shade or face away from the sun between late morning and mid-afternoon.

A macula conception

Despite being one of the eye's most imprtant components, few people know about the crucial role played by the macula. This small area in the middle of the retina governs the central part of our field of vision, processing sharp details for tasks like reading and writing.

Age-related macular degeneration, typically abbreviated to AMD, is caused by damage to the macula's delicate cells - a process that gradually prevents it from working as the cells become worn out. This can cause vision loss if left unchecked, and age-related macular degeneration is currently the leading cause of registered blindness in the western world. However, this is different to total blindness, since only central eyesight is affected; almost all AMD sufferers retain their peripheral vision.

There are two main types of macular degeneration - wet and dry. Also known as advanced AMD, the former involves leaking blood vessels under the macula, and it develops from the more common and insidious dry type, which is caused by a build-up of cellular debris. One eye often deteriorates before the other, making the condition harder to recognise, and many people's first experience of AMD is a gradually expanding blurred or dark spot in their central vision. Other early symptoms include straight lines appearing distorted, or a blurring of objects, along with light sensitivity and "seeing" colours that aren't actually there.

The exact causes of age related macular degeneration are not fully understood, although the elerly and people with a family history of the condition are at greater risk. Recent research has indicated a link between smoking and AMD; risk rates double and onset takes place considerably earlier, much like the established links between smoking and lung cancer.

Obesity and high cholesterol or blood pressure can also heighten the risk, whereas a diet including green leafy vegetables and fruits rich in zinc or vitamin C and E can help eyes to fight off macular degeneration. Since excessive exposure to sunlight over many years may contribute to the disease's onset, this is another reason to invest in effective sun protection eyewear.

We can test for AMD in several ways, often by dilating the pupils and then using retinal photography to map any changes taking place in the macula. If there are any signs of damage at this stage, your Optometrist may refer you to an eye specialist. Various treatments are currently available to slow down any deterioration or even partially reverse the onset of some types of AMD. Because age-related macular degeneration is painless and can take years to fully manifest, you may not recognise its symptons - and as with so many conditions, regular eye-examinations are essential to assist with early diagnosis and any course of treatment.

In the Frame

Thanks to technological advances and a growing demand for premium-quality products (from opticians and patients alike), spectacle lenses are now more sophisticated than ever before. Lens production has become a fine art, with global companies competing to introduce the latest technologies and improve the appearance and durability of their products.

One key advance in recent times has been the ability to considerably slim down lenses. The industry has progressed a long way from the "milk-bottle bottoms" of the postwar era, and today it's possible to obtain lenses made from a variety of materials which minimise thickness and maximise style. It's worth bearing in mind that some lenses will still work better with different types of frames, and stronger prescription strengths may make certain combinations inadvisable, such as thick lenses in rimless frames. If one eye is much weaker than the other thicker frames will help to obscure any difference in the thickness of each lens, and the current fashion for bold spectacle design offers plenty of scope for doing precisely this.

Another relatively modern phenomenon in spectacle production is the ability to apply coatings to each lens, such as anti-reflective materials that reduce eye-obscuring reflections or headlamp dazzle during night-time driving. Polarising lenses perform a similar job, reducing reflections and helping to conquer glare from wet roads or sun-baked sand, either of which can cause eyestrain or blind spots. Advanced coatings can even repel water and dirt - with obvious benefits to anyone who regularly works outdoors.

In a similar vein, scratch resistant coatings offer considerable advantages for people whose jobs or hobbies involve dusty environments or regular lens abrasions, for example photography where viewfinders can be constantly scraping over the spectacles. Allied to modern materials like polycarbonate plastics (which are ten times stronger than standard plastic), spectacles are now more durable than ever before, and consequently glass lenses have become increasingly rare in the UK. Tough, shatter-resistant lenses can be invaluable for sportsmen and women, as well as children, whose spectacles often lead a harder life than their adult counterparts.

Patients requiring multifocal correction have seen some of the biggest improvements in the quality of spectacles available to them, with seamless bifocal lenses eliminating dividing lines. Each lens can now be designed for a unique individual prescription. Like single vision patients, people with multifocal lenses can also enjoy sharper eyesight than in the past, thanks to ever-more precise manufacturing processes which have reduced lens distortion to hitherto unachievable levels.

To find out what lens technologies are currently available, and for more information about how they can improve your vision and appearance, speak to your optician,