Eyes definitely fall into the category of human body parts that are easily taken for granted. Yet vision is integral to our day-to-day existence, we rely on it and we ought to take better care of it.

Only if someone close to us develops an eye disorder that severely impairs their vision, do we actually start to sit up and take note of how important good vision really is and furthermore, what we can do to protect our eyes and prevent some disorders.

Something else that may force us to reflect on the importance of our eyes is July, or should we say JulEYE – eye health awareness month. The RANZCO (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists) Eye Foundation’s JulEYE takes place each year with the aim of raising awareness of eye health issues and funds for research.

I am surrounded by family members with eye issues, including my own father who was very recently diagnosed with macular degeneration and my maternal grandmother has also battled the disorder for some time. My mother and uncle also have myopia.

Such a high family incidence of MD has really been playing on my mind. My grandmother’s MD is in advanced stages and she can no longer read books, watch old movies and Seinfeld episodes which she enjoyed immensely or even read birthday cards. I have resolved to visit an ophthalmologist as my chances of developing MD are quite high I would say.

According to the latest Newspoll commissioned by The RANZCO Eye Foundation, many Australians do recognise the importance of eyesight, with 32 per cent believing blindness would be the hardest health condition to live with over cancer, loss of mobility and heart disease. Yet 46 per cent of Australians say they only have their eyes tested if they are having trouble seeing or if their eyes hurt.

Only two in five Australians (39 per cent) admit to having a family history of eye disease which only highlights the need for regular testing.

Eye disorders do not only affect the elderly. Former INXS band member Kirk Pengilly was 27 and close to going blind after developing acute-closure angle glaucoma. He is an ambassador for JulEYE and is encouraging people, especially younger Australians to go to an ophthalmologist and get their eyes checked if they have any family history of eye disorders.

Some common eye disorders:

Problems with focusing (refractive errors) are the most common eye disorders and include myopia (short-sightedness), hyperopia or hypermetropia (long-sightedness), astigmatism and presbyopia.

However the more serious eye conditions include macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of vision damage in people over 40 years of age, but can affect people of any age. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people aged over 55 years. Cataract is the eye condition responsible for the largest single direct health cost in Australia. In 2004 it was estimated that almost 1.5 million Australians aged 55 or over had cataracts.

Top tips for protecting your eyes:

  • Get eyes checked – you should have regular eye check every two years
  • Vitamin A – essential to healthy eyes and normal eyesight.  Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A
  • Antioxidants – Studies have shown antioxidant vitamins A, C and E reduced the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration among those already at high risk of the disease
  • Minerals – certain minerals are thought to be connected to eye health.  Studies have linked zinc to a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration
  • Protective eyewear – safety glasses and sunglasses (with UV filter) may just save your eyesight, particularly in the workplace or in harsh sunlight
  • Read in good light – dim light won’t hurt your eyes, but can tire them more quickly
  • Filters – Use an anti-glare filter on your computer monitor
  • Rest your eyes – take frequent breaks from whatever you’re doing to give your eye muscles a rest
  • Stop smoking – Smoking kills healthy cells and can make you more susceptible to eye diseases
  • Maintain a healthy weight – If you are overweight or obese you could be at risk of developing diabetes which could lead to vision loss such as diabetic retinopathy
  • Healthy diet – Eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, especially dark green leafy vegetables and yellow vegetables ; fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and tuna, and nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts and walnuts

So don’t put off that eye check you’ve been meaning to have for yourself or for your children any longer, put it in the diary this JulEYE.

Check out the JulEYE video featuring ambassador Kirk Pengilly (formerly of INXS)