The Heart Health and Eye Health Connection

Eye HealthOur bodies give us many external indications of internal conditions. The ways our eyes show the health of our hearts provide one terrific example of this. In celebration of Heart Health Month, let’s explore this connection further as well as consider how keeping eyes healthy contributes to a healthier heart.

High blood pressure and diabetes cause damage to blood vessels throughout the body, including to those in the eyes. For this reason, eye doctors may be able to sight a heart problem by examining the retina during a routine eye exam. So, not only can a regular eye exam lead to early detection of eye diseases such as glaucoma, Harvard Health says it can also lead to early detection of deeper problems such as a variety of heart problems as well as diabetes.

Because only a trained ocular physician can see many indications of the more serious problems, regular, comprehensive eye exams are essential. By age 40, everyone should have a comprehensive eye exam that checks for systemic problems as indicated by the eyes. Those with a family history of eye disease should receive them sooner rather than later.

While some of the more serious diseases can only be seen through eye examination by a trained physician, there are some eye indications that everyone should be aware of an on the lookout for.

What Your Eyes Say About Your Heart also includes signs that anyone can see. Those signs include bloody or bulging eyes, droopy eyelid, rings on the cornea and thickening eyelid. These and many other visual clues can be indications of a slew of more significant problems such as high blood pressure, thyroid disease and hereditary disorders.

Additional connection between eye health and heart health lies with the importance of healthy lifestyle for both heart and eyes. Turns out that what is healthy for the eyes, is healthy for the heart and vice versa. In fact, you can Put Your Eyes On A Diet as well as Exercise Your Eyes and at the same time receive whole-body benefit, including a tremendous benefit for your heart.

So, keeping eyes healthy goes well beyond maintaining and keeping optimal vision. Begin by taking care of your eyes through simple steps such as protecting them from the sun’s harmful rays by wearing quality sunglasses and safety sunglasses. Doing so gives you and your doctor yet another tool for fighting heart disease and heading off potential problems early and enjoying healthy eyes and heart throughout your lifetime.

A Lesson from Anderson Cooper – Your Eyes CAN Get Sunburned!

As 60 Minutes Correspondent and CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper recently discovered, a person’s eyes really can get sunburned. Cooper suffered blindness in late November 2012 resulting from exposing his eyes to the sun’s harmful UV rays without wearing proper UV protection.

Cooper told CBS This Morning that he experienced 36 hours of blindness after a day of filming in Portugal for a piece for 60-Minutes. Because Cooper was filming on water, the sun reflecting off the water “burned” his eyes, which resulted in his temporary blindness.

On his show Anderson Live, Cooper described the ordeal this way: “I wake up in the middle of the night and it feels like my eyes are on fire, my eyeballs and I think, oh maybe I have sand in my eyes or something. I douse my eyes with water. Anyway, it turns out I have sunburned my eyeballs and I go blind. I went blind for 36 hours.”

Ophthalmologists have stated that Cooper likely suffered from a retinal burn or solar keratitis, which is a burn to the surface of the eye. While solar keratitis usually heals within a few days, a retinal burn usually takes 3-6 months to heal.

Interestingly, Cooper also said the day was overcast and he was only exposed for two hours.

Solar Keratitis and retinal burn can also be caused by staring straight into the sun or looking at a solar eclipse. Surfers and skiers, really anyone spending extended periods of time on water or snow, are especially susceptible to solar karatitis.

How do you know if your eyes are sunburned?

The symptoms of eye sunburn may not show up right away, as was Cooper’s case, and can include blurred vision, pain, redness, tearing, and vision loss. Sunburned eyes also will likely feel gritty or sandy. Should you have any of these symptoms, see your eye doctor right away. Your ophthalmologist will likely treat sunburn of the eye with lubrication and an eye patch. And, as already noted, your eyes will simply need time to heal.

What can we learn from Anderson Cooper’s blindness?

  1. Wear sunglasses whenever you are exposed to UV rays. Experts, such as those at the University of Houston, stress the importance of wearing protective eyewear even on cloudy days. Cooper’s experience clearly shows that eyes can be damaged even when the sun is hiding behind the clouds.
  2. Wear quality sunglasses. And, just as important, be sure to wear the right kind of sunglasses. Dr. Natasha Hertz, ophthalmologist at Washington Advent Hospital, recommends sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection with UVB protection being the key. Not sure where to buy sunglasses that you know will protect your eyes? Check out these sunglasses and safety sunglasses from your favorite name brands.
  3. Regular exposure of the eyes to the sun can have long-term effects. Those affects include cataracts, macular degeneration, benign eye growths, and skin cancer around the eyes. While Cooper has completely recovered from the sunburn of his eyes, only time will tell if he will suffer any long-term effects.

A Vision Counsel survey discovered that 73% of adults wear sunglasses at least some of the time, but only 58% make their kids wear them too. The counsel said that the reasons people do not wear sunglasses whenever they are exposed to UV rays is that, mostly, they forget. About 14% of people said they don’t wear them because they lose or break their sunglasses often.

The Vision Counsel’s report also said that about 20% of people surveyed said they don’t believe their eyes are at risk from sun exposure. And even if people do believe the sun can damage their eyes, many fail to realize the cumulative effects the sun can have on eyes over a person’s lifetime.

Hopefully, Cooper’s experience can help people see that exposing eyes to UV rays, even on cloudy days, not only damages eyes cumulatively over a person’s lifetimebut can seriously impact a person’s ability to see anything at all.

Related Reading:

Yes, Your Eyes Can Get Sunburned: The Dangers of Photokeratitis

How to Remember to Wear Sunglasses

Contacts May Provide Added UV Protection

Eye ContactScientific studies have shown that prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun can cause cataracts and macular degeneration and can lead to permanent eye damage and even blindness. Prevention by wearing quality sunglasses that block at least 99% of harmful rays from the sun along with other preventative measures can reduce the chance of these problems.

In addition, it turns out that some contact wearers may be receiving added protection against harmful sun damage to the eyes that those who wear sunglasses or prescription eyewear alone do not, namely UV protection built into their contacts.

While some contacts offer little or no UV protection, others provide adequate additional protection as a supplement and compliment to sunglasses. In fact, research indicates that UV contacts in conjunction with sunglasses that provide UV protection provide better UV protection that just sunglasses alone.

Contacts with UV protection are labeled either Class 1 or Class 2. Class 1 indicates that lenses block 96% of UVA rays and 100% of UVB rays. Class 2 lenses block 70% and 95% respectively. Many contacts offer no additional UV protection.

Research also warns against relying on UV contacts alone for protecting the eyes against sun damage. This is because UV contacts in general block at least 10% less UV light than sunglasses with the amount being blocked varying from one pair of contacts to the next.

While wraparound sunglasses provide the best option for full-eye sun protection, simply wearing any sunglasses that protect against at least 99% of UV rays provides essential protection for eyes against the sun’s harmful rays. But, wearing UV contacts in addition to sunglasses brings added whole-eye protection that glasses alone simply cannot provide.

Most sunglasses fail to prevent all UV rays from reaching the eyes because of direct and indirect sunlight that shines through the top, sides and bottoms of glasses. Contacts can provide protection to theses exposed areas.

Taking the idea of complete protection even further, adding a wide-brimmed hat that covers 1” or more in front of the eye when wearing UV sunglasses and contacts provides the ideal solution for those whose eyes are exposed to the sun on a regular and prolonged basis. Those individuals include lifeguards, ski patrol and other individuals who work and spend the majority of their time in the sun.

Just like all sunglasses are not created equal and making sure you purchase quality sunglasses is essential, so too is the case with contacts that protect against UV rays. As already mentioned, not all lenses provide the same amount of UV protection with some providing no protection at all against the sun.

Check with your eye care provider with regard to the UV rating on your contacts. If your contacts do not provide UV protection, request contacts that do.

The bottom line is that UV contacts alone do not provide as much protection as sunglasses alone, especially wraparound styles. But together, UV contacts and sunglasses provide solid protection for eyes against the sun’s harmful rays.