Review Category : Dr. Mark Siegel, MD FAAO

Leave fireworks to professionals this Fourth of July

By Dr. Mark S. Siegel

I recall a few extraordinary patients during my ophthalmology residency who have left an indelible memory. One such patient was a 13 year old who was playing with an M-80 explosive device that he placed in a soup can. The subsequent explosion sent shards of metal that were absorbed by his face and one of his eyes. The metal perforated his cornea and lens and lodged in the back wall of his eye in his retina. After multiple surgeries, he can see a hand waved in front of his face.

I really hate to be a buzz kill before this Fourth of July holiday — what should be a time when wonderful memories are made with family and loved ones.

Unfortunately, more than 9,000 fireworks injuries happen each year on average in the United States, with roughly 1 in 8 fireworks injuries harming the eyes, according to the most recent fireworks injury report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Common fireworks eye injuries include burns, lacerations, abrasions, retinal detachment, optic nerve damage and ruptured eyeballs.

Those injured are not necessarily handling the explosives themselves. In fact, nearly half of people injured by fireworks are bystanders, according to an international study. Children are frequent victims: 30 percent who sustained a fireworks injury near the Fourth of July holiday are ages 15 and under, according to the commission report.

Even sparklers can burn more than 1,000 degrees hotter than the boiling point of water. So, fireworks should not be thought of as toys, but devices that can cause third-degree burns. This is why people must be vigilant and take precautions to avoid the risk of serious eye injury.

Fireworks Safety Tips

The best way to avoid a potentially blinding fireworks injury is by attending a professional public fireworks show rather than purchasing fireworks for home use.

For those who attend professional fireworks displays and/or live in communities surrounding the shows:

• Respect safety barriers at fireworks shows and view fireworks from at least 500 feet away.

• Do not touch unexploded fireworks; instead, immediately contact local fire or police departments to help.

For those who decide to purchase consumer fireworks because they live in states where they are legal, such as South Carolina, follow the following safety tips to prevent eye injuries:

• Never let children play with fireworks of any type, even sparklers.

• Adults handling fireworks should always wear protective eyewear that meets the parameters set by the American National Standards Institute and ensure that all bystanders are also wearing eye protection.

• Leave the lighting of professional-grade fireworks to trained pyro technicians.

Remember, if an eye injury from fireworks occurs, seek medical attention immediately.

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June is Cataract Awareness Month

By Mark Siegel, MD, FAAO

Throughout the month of June, Sea Island Ophthalmology would like to help people become more aware of the serious eye disease of cataracts. There are about 22 million Americans aged 40 and older who suffer with cataracts, and more than half the people over age 65 have some degree of cataract development. Cataracts are now the leading cause of blindness among adults over 55 years of age.

Moreover, a study out of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston indicates that seniors suffering from poor vision have shown evidence of a premature mental decline.

Additionally, a study found that patients who received cataract surgery had a significantly reduced rate of hip fractures from falls.

The results of these studies clearly bring to light the importance of routine eye care for older adults, who are at increased risk of eye conditions that cause severe visual impairment such as cataracts.

The good news is that vision loss caused by cataracts can be easily treated. Cataract surgery is now one of the most commonly performed procedures in the United States and has a 99 percent success rate. This is why ophthalmologists recommend scheduling a yearly eye exam for all those who might be at risk.

The Symptoms

Cataracts can cause a variety of symptoms or signs. One common symptom is often compared to looking through a dirty car windshield or a smeared camera lens. Other symptoms may include:

• Blurred vision

• Difficulties reading or driving at night

• Difficulty with glare (such as a bright sun or automobile headlights)

• Dull color vision

• Increased nearsightedness (with frequent changes in eyeglass prescriptions)

• Occasional double vision in one eye.

The Diagnosis

Cataracts can be detected during a thorough eye examination. The doctor can see the affected lens in your eye while performing a variety of tests using specialized viewing instruments.

By selecting the appropriate tests, the doctor will be able to determine how much a cataract might be affecting your vision. The doctor will also perform a thorough examination of the eye to ensure any vision loss is not due to other eye problems, such as diabetes, glaucoma, or macular degeneration.

The Treatment

Some cataracts never progress to the point where they require treatment, while others progress more rapidly. Cataracts commonly affect both eyes, but it is not uncommon for a cataract in one eye to advance more rapidly than one in the other. Surgery is generally recommended for those who experience detectable vision loss.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cataracts, please request an appointment for your cataract surgery consultation.

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Protect your eyes from the sun

By Mark Siegel

As you rub on sunscreen to protect your skin this summer, don’t forget to protect your eyes as well. Summertime means more time spent outdoors, and studies show that exposure to bright sunlight may increase the risk of developing cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and growths on the eye, including cancer.

May is UV (ultraviolet light) Safety Awareness Month and Sea Island Ophthalmology wants to remind everyone of the importance of protecting our eyes from the sun’s haarmful rays by wearing proper protection. It also wants to remind the public of the importance of protecting eyes from indoor UV light when using tanning beds.

UV radiation, whether from natural sunlight or indoor artificial rays, can damage the eye’s surface tissues as well as the cornea and lens. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the dangers UV light can pose. By wearing UV blocking sunglasses, you can enjoy the summer safely while lowering your risk for potentially blinding eye diseases and tumors. It is important to start wearing proper eye protection at an early age to protect the eyes from years of ultraviolet exposure.

Our eyes are at risk from the sun year-round. However, the longer the exposure to bright light as happens frequently during the summer, the greater the risk is. Excessive exposure to UV light reflected off sand, water or pavement can damage the eyes’ front surface. In addition to cataracts and AMD, sun exposure can lead to lesions and tumors that may be cosmetically unappealing and require surgical removal. Pinguecula, tiny yellow bumps on the eye, are common from too much UV exposure. They begin on the white part of the eye and may eventually disrupt your vision.

Damage to the eyes from UV light is not limited to the outdoors; it is also a concern with indoor tanning beds. Tanning beds can produce UV levels up to 100 times what you would get from the sun, which can cause very serious damage to the external and internal structures of the eye and eyelids. Corneal burns, cataracts, and, in rare instances, retinal damage can occur. It is critical that you wear the properly designed goggles for use in tanning booths.

Follow these tips to protect your eyes from the sun:

Don’t focus on color or darkness of sunglass lenses: Select sunglasses that block UV rays. The ability to block UV light is not dependent on the price tag or how dark the sunglass lenses are.

Check for 100 percent UV protection: Make sure your sunglasses block 100 percent of UV-A rays and UV-B rays.

Choose wrap-around styles: Ideally, your sunglasses should wrap all the way around to your temples, so the sun’s rays can’t enter from the side.

Wear a hat: In addition to your sunglasses, wear a broad-brimmed hat to protect your eyes.

Don’t rely on contact lenses: Even if you wear contact lenses with UV protection, remember your sunglasses.

Don’t be fooled by clouds: The sun’s rays can pass through haze and thin clouds. Sun damage to eyes can occur anytime during the year.

Protect your eyes during peak sun times: Sunglasses should be worn whenever outside, and it’s especially important to wear sunglasses in the early afternoon and at higher altitudes.

Never look directly at the sun: Looking directly at the sun at any time, including during an eclipse, can lead to solar retinopathy, damage to the eye’s retina from solar radiation.

Don’t forget the kids: Everyone is at risk, including children. Protect their eyes with hats and sunglasses. In addition, try to keep children out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest.

Mark Siegel, MD, FAOO, Medical Director,
Sea Island Ophthalmology,

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Exercise and lifestyle can affect visual impairment

By Mark S. Siegel, MD

In 2020, the number of people in the United States with visual impairment — sight loss often caused by eye disease, trauma, or a congenital or degenerative condition that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses — is projected to increase to at least four million. This is a 70 percent increase from 2000 and is due to the growing aging population and prevalence of age-related eye diseases.

To help determine ways to decrease the incidence of visual impairment, researchers at the University of Wisconsin examined the relationships between the incidence of visual impairment and three modifiable lifestyle behaviors: smoking, drinking alcohol and staying physically active. The research was conducted as part of the Beaver Dam Eye Study, a long-term population-based cohort study from 1988 to 2013 of nearly 5,000 adults aged 43 to 84 years.

The researchers found that regular physical activity and an alcoholic beverage every now and then is associated with a lower risk of visual impairment. The data showed that over 20 years, visual impairment developed in 5.4 percent of the population and varied based on lifestyle behaviors. For example, people who were physically active had a 58 percent decrease in the odds of developing visual impairment compared to people who were not physically active.

The researchers also found that people who drank alcohol occasionally (defined as those who have consumed alcohol in the past year, but reported fewer than one serving in an average week) had a 49 percent decrease in the odds of developing visual impairment compared to people who had consumed no alcohol in the past year.

As with most epidemiologic research, the researchers caution that a limitation to their study is that the findings may be due, in part, to unmeasured factors related to both lifestyle behaviors and development of visual impairment. The data does not prove that these lifestyle behaviors are directly responsible for increased risk. The researchers still believe the research shows good promise for indicating ways that people can lessen their risk of visual impairment through lifestyle changes.

Dr. Siegel is medical director of Sea Island Ophthalmology, board certified, American Board of Ophthalmology, 525-1500.

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Prevent injuries with 10 eye safety tips during Workplace Eye Wellness Month

By Mark S. Siegel

More than 700,000 work-related eye injuries occur each year. March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month — a good time to refocus attention on your eye protection program. Get the facts here, plus 10 tips for injury prevention.

As the National Safety Council points out, “All it takes is a tiny sliver of metal, particle of dust, or splash of chemical to cause significant and permanent eye damage.”

OSHA’s eye and face protection standard requires employers to “ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids, or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.”

Share these injury-prevention tips with managers and supervisors.

1. Look carefully at plant operations, work areas, access routes, and equipment. Study injury patterns to see where accidents are occurring.

2. Conduct regular vision testing, as uncorrected vision can cause accidents.

3. Select protective eyewear based on specific duties or hazards.

4. Establish a mandatory eye protection program in all operation areas.

5. Have eyewear fitted by a professional.

6. Establish first-aid procedures for eye injuries, and make eyewash stations available, especially where chemicals are in use.

7. Make eye safety part of your employee training and new hire orientation.

8. Make sure managers and executives set an example by wearing protective eyewear wherever it’s worn by other employees.

9. Regularly review and revise your policies, and set a goal of zero eye injuries.

10. Display a copy of your policy where employees can see it.

It’s also a good time to remind employees of off-the-job eye hazards like do-it-yourself work on cars and homes, cooking accidents, sports injuries, yard work, and chemical splashes from cleaners and fertilizers.

So please protect your eyes — you only get two of them.

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Can cataract surgery help you live longer?

By Mark Siegel, MD, FAAO

A recent study indicated that people who suffer from vision loss related to cataracts that proceed with cataract surgery lower their long-term mortality risk by 40 percent compared to people that choose not to have surgery.  The data used for the research study came from the Blue Mountains Eye Study, a group that researches vision and common eye diseases in an older Australian population.

The study that was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology studied a total of 354 patients over the age of 49 who suffered from visual impairment that was caused by cataracts. This study took place over a 15-year time span and evaluated patients who elected to have cataract surgery and patients who did not have surgery to correct cataract-related vision impairment. The study took adjustments into account such as age and gender as well as mortality risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, co-morbid disease and cardiovascular disease to name a few.

The correlation between living longer and the correction of cataract related vision loss is not clearly understood, but several plausible factors may include improvement in physical and emotional well-being, optimism, the ability to live independently, as well as greater ability to comply with prescription medications.

Cataracts are typically slow to change over time, and their effects on vision can subtly progress to the point that the cataract might have unnoticed negative impacts on visual functioning, mood, and as a result, personal independence.

Cataracts occur when the eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy over time. Cataracts are a leading cause of vision impairment and will affect more than 50 percent of Americans by the time they are 80 years old. Cataracts can develop at different rates for everyone, but once they begin to develop, they will only gradually worsen and become more opaque over time. The best way to correct visual impairment caused by cataracts is to undergo cataract surgery where an ophthalmologist removes the natural lens of the eye and replaces it with an artificial intraocular lens. If you notice difficulty in completing everyday tasks due to vision problems, you should contact an eye care professional to discuss cataract surgery to improve the quality of your life.

Many people who suffer from cataracts complain of issues driving, especially at night, problems seeing color and detail clearly, and difficulty performing day-to-day functions at home and work. If cataracts go a long period of time untreated, people often lose their independence, ability to work and their quality of life may begin to suffer.

I have many patients who say they’re “too old” for cataract surgery. After undergoing cataract surgery, one is able to realize the colors and clarity of vision that were missing from their world. No one is “too old” for better vision and possibly a longer life as a result!

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A healthy New Year’s resolution for your eyes

By Mark Siegel, MD, FAAO

Each year as the New Year approaches, people around the world resolve to make changes that will result in longer, happier and healthier lives. Often people are determined to lose weight while others are committed to kicking unhealthy habits such as smoking. This year I would like you to add, “Get a Glaucoma Eye Exam!” to the list of healthy resolutions, and Glaucoma Awareness Month in January is the perfect time to do it.

photoGlaucoma normally progresses so slowly that there are usually no warning signs before permanent damage has occurred to the eye. Therefore, it is vital to educate the American public about the importance of a yearly eye exam to increase early detection and treatment of glaucoma to help prevent vision loss.

What is glaucoma?

In a healthy eye, clear fluid is constantly being made behind the iris and leaving the eye through a microscopic drainage canal in the front of the eye. If this drainage channel becomes blocked, the pressure inside the eye goes up and often causes glaucoma damage to the optic nerve. This is the nerve that connects the eye to the brain so damage to it causes loss of vision.

Who is at risk?

While the causes of glaucoma are not completely known, we do know that risk factors for its development include a family history of glaucoma, race and older age. Glaucoma may affect people of any age from newborns to the elderly but is more common in adults as they approach their senior years. African-Americans, Hispanics and people with diabetes are also at increased risk of developing the disease.

How is it treated?

Most forms of glaucoma can be treated with pressure lowering eye drops. Some patients may also benefit from laser treatment (laser trabeculoplasty). A small portion of patients with severe glaucoma may require incisional surgery to permanently help shunt the aqueous fluid out of the eye.

So please call your local ophthalmologist today to schedule your glaucoma screening for the New Year.

Dr. Mark Siegel, MD, FAAO is medical director at Sea Island Ophthalmology,

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Choose safe toys this holiday

By Mark S. Siegel, MD

No one chooses gifts with the intent to harm, but some popular children’s toys can cause serious eye injuries. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 265,000 toy-related injuries were treated in emergency rooms in 2012, and almost half of these injuries affect the head or face – including the eyes. Unfortunately, most of these injuries happen to children under age 15.

‘You’ll shoot your eye out’

Some propelling toys, like air soft guns, BB guns, paintball guns and darts can be particularly hazardous, with the potential to cause serious eye injuries such as corneal abrasion, ocular hyphema (bleeding inside the eye), traumatic cataract, increased intraocular pressure and even permanent vision loss.

Another dangerous toy category is toys with laser components, which have increased in power and decreased in price over the years. Lasers can be especially hazardous when used in toys that are aimed, such as a laser gun. Blue light lasers are particularly dangerous, as they are more likely to cause retinal injury compared with green or red lasers. Studies show that exposure for even fractions of a second to high-powered blue handheld laser devices can cause serious eye injuries — including macular holes — which often require surgical intervention. In addition, the FDA warns that laser pointers are not toys and should only be used with adult supervision.

The good news is that following these toy safety tips can easily prevent most eye injuries:

• Avoid purchasing toys with sharp, protruding or projectile parts.

• Make sure children have appropriate supervision when playing with potentially hazardous toys or games that could cause an eye injury.

• Ensure that laser product labels include a statement that the device complies with 21 CFR (the Code of Federal Regulations) Subchapter J.

• Along with sports equipment, give children the appropriate protective eyewear with polycarbonate lenses. Check with your ophthalmologist to learn about protective gear recommended for your child’s sport.

• Check labels for age recommendations and be sure to select gifts that are appropriate for a child’s age and maturity.

• Keep toys that are made for older children away from younger children.

If a child experiences an eye injury from a toy, seek immediate medical attention.

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Vitamins reduce risk of age-related macular degeneration

By Mark S. Siegel, MD, FAAO

More than a decade after the first age-related eye disease study (AREDS) showed that taking daily high doses of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper can slow down the progress of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) a second study (AREDS 2) has revealed that adding certain antioxidants to the original formula does not provide any extra benefit to patients.

Advanced AMD can lead to significant vision loss, and in the United States it is the leading cause of blindness. About 2 million Americans have advanced AMD; another 8 million are at risk.

The first AREDS study was conducted by the National Eye Institute and concluded in 2001. It showed that the original AREDS formula could reduce patients’ risk of the advanced form of AMD by about 25 percent. The formula helps protect people’s central vision, which is needed for reading, driving, recognizing faces and other daily activities.

AREDS2, which concluded in 2011, tested several antioxidant nutrients that earlier research had suggested might protect the eyes: lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are produced by plants and are present in oily fish such as salmon. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, a class of plant-derived vitamins that also includes beta-carotene, and are present in leafy green vegetables. The body uses these nutrients to maintain the health of the retina, the part of the eye that can be damaged by AMD. Participants in AREDS2 were assigned to take one of four different AREDS formulas daily for five years.

The AREDS2 research team did find that two patient subgroups benefited from taking variants of the original AREDS formula. The risk of developing advanced AMD was reduced by about 18 percent in study participants who took the variant that included lutein and zeaxanthin but no beta-carotene, compared with participants who took the variant that had beta-carotene but no lutein or zeaxanthin. And those participants whose diets were low in lutein and zeaxanthin at the start of the study, but who took a variant with lutein and zeaxanthin during the study, were about 25 percent less likely to develop advanced AMD, compared with similar participants who did not take lutein and zeaxanthin.

The researchers say that removing beta-carotene from the AREDS formula and adding lutein and zeaxanthin will result in a single formula that is safe and effective for all AMD patients. Until now, people who were current or former smokers could only use a formula that excluded beta-carotene, because it had been linked to risk of lung cancer for these patients. About half of AREDS2 participants were former smokers.

Another recent AREDS report showed that the benefits of taking the AREDS formula appear to be long-lasting. Participants in the first AREDS study who took the original formula daily for five years continue to enjoy a 25 percent lower risk of developing advanced AMD. Most report that they are still taking the supplement.

It is recommended that you discuss these research results with your ophthalmologist and primary care physician before changing or adding a supplement to your regimen.

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Study finds tablets help people with low vision

By Mark Siegel, MD

When gift shopping this year, you have the opportunity to give back a priceless gift to a loved one with low vision: the joy of reading.

People who have eye diseases that damage their central vision can again read quickly and comfortably by using digital tablets, a study shows. On average, patients with moderate vision loss significantly increased their reading speed and comfort using an iPad digital tablet. The researchers think that other tablets that feature back-lit screens and font-enlargement capabilities would offer similar benefits.

Millions of people who have eye diseases such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy struggle with the loss of their central vision. These diseases damage the light-sensitive cells of the eye’s retina, which relays images to the optic nerve for transmission to the brain. When treatments like eyeglasses, medications, or surgery are no longer effective, ophthalmologists and eye care professionals help patients make the most of their remaining sight by using low vision aids. Before digital tablets came along, reading aids were limited to lighted magnifiers, which are cumbersome and inconvenient by comparison.

Reading is a simple pleasure that we often take for granted until vision loss makes it difficult. The findings show that at a relatively low cost, digital tablets can improve the lives of people with vision loss and help them reconnect with the larger world.

All of the 100 participants in the study, conducted at Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine, gained at least 42 words-per-minute when using the iPad2 set to 18-point font, compared with reading a print book or newspaper. People with the poorest vision showed the most improvement in speed when using an iPad or Kindle™, compared with print. The Kindle model used in the study did not have a backlit screen, although a newer model, the Kindle Fire, does.

Today’s high-tech gadgets have features that make living with low vision a bit easier. And if you or a loved one is using such devices for their built-in magnification and backlighting, consider adding apps to track eye health as well. You have more tools at your disposal than ever before to take control of your eye health.

Some features of these devices and their apps can include:

Enlargement. Smartphones, tablets and e-readers all have enlargement capabilities, though they will not enlarge text as much as a dedicated CCTV magnifier will. Not all e-readers can increase contrast, which can be a big help for people with low vision. Shop around to see if a particular e-reader will meet your needs.

Lighting. Apps for many tablets and smartphones use your device’s camera and light source to illuminate text or other things you need to see more clearly.

Voice interface. Many smartphones have some level of voice-recognition, which may help to send texts and emails among other things. Smartphone mapping apps will give turn-by-turn voice commands to help drivers with low vision to find their way when they have trouble reading street signs.

If you or someone you know has low vision, consider some of these latest high tech gadgets. They can be a big help, and they are getting better every year.

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