What most people know Optometrists for is helping them see better with glasses or contact lenses. While this is very important, it’s not the only thing we do. Just like any other medical professional, eye doctors have different specialties. Being an eye doctor seems specialized enough, but the eye is such a complex organ that there are many different specialties within eyecare. One of my specialties is Holistic Eyecare and Vision Therapy. Most people have never heard of holistic eyecare, so let me explain what that is.
Many chronic eye conditions, such as macular degeneration, dry eye, and nearsightedness, happen in the eye but can often be traced back to a root cause in the body. These conditions have a genetic component, but when you combine genetics with chronic inflammation, poor nutrition, screen time, or other repetitive stressors, you are more likely to develop a chronic eye condition.
For instance, one cause of nearsightedness in children (needing glasses for distance vision) is too much screen time and not spending enough time outdoors. One factor that causes the development of macular degeneration is poor nutrition and lifestyle habits such as smoking. Night-time vision problems can often be traced back to certain nutritional deficits. These are just a few examples of how your overall health can impact eye health, but there are many more.
Holistic eye care is looking at the whole person and understanding why they may develop a specific eye condition or symptom. A Holistic Optometrist will work together with you and your team of medical professionals to uncover the root cause of your condition. Giving you the tools to help overcome your symptoms with the goal of minimizing long-term use of eye drops or other pharmaceuticals that could just be masking a symptom of a chronic condition.
Now, let’s talk about one of the most serious eye conditions a person can develop: macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is a disease that affects the central part of the eye, known as the macula, responsible for detailed vision. The blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the macula are very fragile and, when damaged, can cause severe vision loss. Once these vessels are damaged, it is very hard to reverse that damage, so prevention is very important for macular degeneration.
As mentioned, there is a genetic component to macular degeneration, but poor lifestyle and nutrition habits often make it worse. The number of people with macular degeneration skyrocketed in the 20th century and has shown no signs of slowing down. As we have turned to foods of convenience that are processed and provide little to no nutritional value, our health has declined, and more people have developed macular degeneration as a result.
If you live an unhealthy lifestyle, different parts of your body will start to break down. For many people, that breakdown happens in the form of diabetes or even a heart attack. For others, that first breakdown happens in the eye in the form of macular degeneration. If you are genetically predisposed to macular degeneration already, you are more likely to see that breakdown of health happen in the eye first.
So what can we do? Prevention is the best medicine. Living a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition is one of the best ways to prevent eye diseases like macular degeneration. One of my favorite books is The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. In this book, he talks about the lifestyle and nutrition habits of five places around the world he calls Blue Zones, where a higher percentage of people live to be 100 years or older without chronic health conditions. His books have become so popular a new Netflix series just came out centered around this concept. If you haven’t already, read one of his books and learn how to live the same lifestyle as the centenarians in the Blue Zones. Everyone has different opinions about proper diet and nutrition, but I believe following the lifestyle of someone who has lived over 100 years is a great place to start.
While lifestyle and nutrition are some of the most important ways to prevent macular degeneration, what can be done for those who already have it? Currently, the only treatments available are supplementation and eye injections, reserved for more severe cases. However, some promising research has been done recently that shows that 670nm red light can improve the visual function of those suffering from macular degeneration. More research needs to be done to confirm this, but we already know that red light has many other health benefits, and it would be wonderful to add vision improvement to that list.
One of the best ways to absorb red light into your eyes safely is to take a walk in the morning or evening around sunset. These two times of day are when red light is the most prominent from the sun and when the sun is much less likely to damage your eyes during these times. You want to do this without sunglasses on so that you are not blocking out the beneficial red light. Never look directly into the sun, but being outside at these times benefits your eye health and overall wellness.
Dr. Walley is the owner of Collierville Vision Center and Collierville Vision Therapy. He specializes in Vision Therapy and Holistic Eyecare, helping children and adults with strabismus, amblyopia, and other eye problems that interfere with vision and learning through vision therapy. As a Holistic Optometrist, he also helps his patients prevent eye disease through lifestyle and nutrition.
For more information, follow him on Instagram @colliervillevision or his website Colliervillevision.com.
By Brandon Walley, O.D.