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The eyes have it
Updated: 2004-06-23 09:11

These days, the human body is suffering at the hands of modern technology, and eyes are no exception. Xu Wei explores the modern day hazards to eye health, and offers some solutions.

Human eyes are suffering at the hand of modern technology.
There's no doubt about it: We take our health for granted.

Only when something interferes with our clear vision of the world, for instance, do we realize that maybe we have abused and overused this irreplaceable organ. Unlike teeth, hair and even skin, lost eyesight cannot be restored, yet this is one of the most valuable of all our senses.

"More than 80 percent of the outside information we receive is visual," says Professor Rong Ao of the Shanghai Tongji Hospital. ``Taking precautions to protect the eyes from infection and injury is absolutely essential, particularly in modern society, where potential vision hazards and the low-level condition of ill ocular health are commonplace.''

At present, there are more than 10 million people in China suffering from low vision. Compared with our ancestors who lived in a relatively wide, empty spaces, people today face both a crowded urban layout and modern technology that can be harmful to the eyes. Take our intimate electric companion, computers and TV, for example. Staring at the screen for a couple of hours is not rare these days, but the effects can be harmful.

Experts explain that since the screen is composed of numerous fluorescent dots, eyes have to constantly regulate the focus to ensure a clear image. Thus eyesight problems like eye fatigue, dryness and discomfort become a problem. Wu Lihua, a 30-year-old white-collar worker, worries about her dry, tired and aching eyes after day of computer use in the office, but sees no alternative.

``In the epoch of IT communication, I have no choice but to work on PCs day after day,'' Wu complains. ``With such a fast-paced working environment, eye strain and discomfort are a common complaint in my office. It can be even worse if there's an urgent business report to be finished overnight.'' ``Staring at a screen can lead to a drop in blink rate by about 10 percent,''

Professor Rong notes. ``And then the amount of lachrymal secretion decreases, causing dry and tired eyes. When this becomes a common occurrence, the function of the tear duct declines.'' But even busy office workers can prevent computer-related eyestrain by limiting uninterrupted screen time to one hour, and taking frequent breaks -- even looking out of the window occasionally will help. The great outdoors makes a nice visual break from the computer or TV screen, but it can also be a major eye hazard. As temperatures soar and the scorching sun beats down this summer, protecting your eyes from harmful solar rays should become a priority.

``Excessive ultraviolet radiation is likely to burn the skin and can damage the eyes,'' Professor Rong adds. ``The sun's rays in the summer also has the potential to cause painful problems in the cornea. High-quality sunglasses are must-have items in summer. Make sure your sunglasses have ultraviolet protection and are dark enough to hide your eyes behind them.''

As with other health issues, experts are now finding that emotions are also linked to visual health. ``Major mood changes, like depression and deep sorrow can even cause sudden blindness overnight,'' Professor Rong says. ``Of course, this is not common, but since emotions do have an impact on health, it is still wise for people who shoulder great pressure to properly regulate their emotional fluctuations and maintain a good psychological condition.''

Even relatively minor conditions like lack of sleep and an excess of alcohol can affect the eyes, creating redness or even a black eye (a bruise around the eye socket), says Rong. ``Look at my black eyes,'' complains Zhang Yue, a 30-year-old consultant with a foreign company.

``The bruise has lasted on my face for months. No matter how much cosmetics I use to cover it, there's little effect. But I don't think it's a big problem compared with my highly demanding job.'' However, experts don't agree. ``If a black eye is only occasional and clears up quickly, there is nothing to worry about,'' Professor Rong says.

``But a persistent condition, especially if accompanied by irritation or pain in the eye, may indicate problems that need immediate medical intervention.'' In addition to preventing your eyes from the excesses of the sun's rays, computer rays, fatigue and emotional changes, healthy eyes need a healthy eye diet. According to Professor Jiang Yifang, a nutrition expert with the Shanghai Children's Hospital, Vitamin C levels in the eye decrease with age.

Vitamin C supplements can reduce the risks of developing cataracts and glaucoma. Carotenoids, which are found in high concentrations in spinach and kale, is also an essential element to protect the eyes. ``In addition, Vitamin B2 and B3 protect glutathione, an important antioxidant in the eye which can delay senility,'' Jiang adds. ``Fresh vegetables and fruits are rich in such elements. Balance and variety in the diet are key.''

For many Chinese, traditional medlar tea is the simple solution to preventive eye care. ``Sipping medlar tea in the office is more than just relaxation,'' says Xu Ziyan, a retired teacher. ``It's also a shortcut to protect your eyes from daily exhaustion and potential hazards. I have already taught my son the habit.''

Tips to protect your eyes

* Get regular eye check-ups. * Eat well, being sure to consume foods rich in antioxidants and zinc. * Wash your hands well before touching your eyes. * If you wear mascara, remove it completely each night. * Never sleep with eye makeup on. * Be extra cautious when using caustic household products such as bleach, detergent, oven cleaner and other cleaning products. * Get plenty of rest and wear protective eye gear when necessary.

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