A LOOK BEHIND SLEEPING EYES
| A good night’s sleep is one of the pillars of physical and mental health and well-being. As well as being vital for maintaining critical body functions and protecting the body against certain chronic diseases, sleep is necessary to restore energy, repair muscle tissue and allow the brain to process new information. We are all familiar with how we feel and look when we are sleep deprived, but not only does lack of sleep affect the appearance of the eyes, it can interfere with eye health, too.|
Once the eyes are closed after a day of visual processing and stimulation, they continue to function in a limited way by sensing light, for example the rising sun or a bright light being switched on. They do not actively process visual imagery, essentially taking a break and recharging in preparation for the next day’s visual demands. The eyelids serve as a shield protecting the closed eyes from light and helping to preserve moisture and prevent the eyes from drying out.
Throughout the night we constantly pass through five stages of sleep. During stage one, the eyes roll slowly and open and close slightly, but they remain still during the deeper sleep stages two, three and four. The fifth stage is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, in which we spend about 20% of our total sleep time. During REM sleep, when the muscles of the body are relaxed, the eyes move around rapidly in a range of directions, but don’t send any visual information to the brain. The visual cortex of the brain, which is responsible for processing visual data, is active, but does not process visual information. Rather, this activity serves part of a memory forming or reinforcing function which consolidates the memory with experiences from the day. This is the stage during which most people dream.
The amount of sleep we need each night varies from person to person, but generally it is recommended that healthy adults have 7 to 9 hours per night, with children and adolescents needing more. Some of the effects of not getting enough sleep include dark circles under the eyes, puffiness, red, itchy eyes, and involuntary twitching of the eyes. While these effects may be uncomfortable and unattractive, there are other more serious effects. Without sufficient sleep, the fluid circulation of lubricating tears is less efficient resulting in or exacerbating dry eyes. Not only is this an irritating condition, but it can compromise eye health. Sleep apnea has been linked to vision problems resulting from a decreased supply of blood and oxygen to the optic nerve, and some studies have reported a link between glaucoma and sleep difficulties.
Upon waking, most people need to wipe away the substance that is often left in the corners of the eyes. Legend has it that this is proof of a night-time visit by the Sandman, the mythological character who sprinkles grains of sand into our eyes to induce sleep, invoke beautiful dreams and prevent the eyes from opening until morning. He first appeared in a story by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. The Sandman occurs repeatedly across the world by word of mouth, in stories, film and songs, sometimes portrayed as kind and benevolent and at other times as a more sinister figure who punishes children who refuse to go to sleep!
In fact, this substance in the corners of the eyes is rheum, a thin mucous made up of bacteria, oils, dust and discarded cells, residue from the eye’s natural protective process. When we are awake, a tear film keeps our eyes moist and healthy, as rheum is flushed away with tears as we blink. When our eyes are closed in sleep, the tears continue to wash over the eyes picking up debris, which the eyelids guide towards the corners of the eyes and along the eyelashes where it accumulates.
The presence of a clear or whitish discharge is normal and no cause for concern. Signs that there may be a problem include more discharge than usual, changes in colour or consistency, trouble opening the eyes in the morning because the lids are sticking together, redness or swelling of the eye, or eye pain. Excessive tearing or abnormal discharge may represent the eye’s attempt to improve lubrication or fight infection or allergens. Should any concerns arise, discuss them with your optometrist.
It is tempting to rub the eyes and remove the discharge with the hands on waking but there is a risk of infection. Rather use a cloth or cotton wool soaked in warm water to gently clean the eyes. If there is an infection which may be contagious, use a separate cloth for each eye and do not share face cloths or towels with family members. Wash your hands before and after cleaning the eyes. Always remove eye makeup before going to bed. Good eye hygiene can go a long way toward keeping the eyes healthy and avoiding irritation and infection.
Not having had a restful night’s sleep is one of the reasons that some people wake up with dark circles under the eyes. Sleep deprivation can cause the skin to become dull and pale, allowing for dark tissues and blood vessels beneath the skin to become more visible. Lack of sleep can also cause fluid to build underneath the eyes, causing them to appear puffy. As a result, the dark circles may actually be shadows cast by the puffy eyelids. Other factors that may contribute to the condition include eye strain, allergies, dehydration, overexposure to the sun and the natural aging process.
For most people dark circles are a temporary condition and generally of no concern. There are medical treatments available to reduce their appearance, but home remedies are usually effective. A cold compress can help eliminate dark circles by reducing swelling and shrinking dilated blood vessels. Cold tea bags applied to the eyes have a similar effect, with the added benefit of the caffeine and antioxidants in the tea helping to reduce fluid retention. Elevating the head with extra pillows helps to prevent pooling of fluid under the eyes, making them less puffy. Makeup can help to camouflage dark circles, but some products may worsen the symptoms or trigger an allergic reaction so choose cosmetic products with care.
The obvious solution to dark circles is to catch up on sleep. Often more easily said than done, but the benefits are far-reaching in terms of both eye health and physical well-being.
AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION
|Many people accept vision decline as a normal part of the human aging process. While this is largely true, certain changes which lead to serious diseases of the eyes can be prevented from progressing into the loss of visual function if caught in time. Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is one such condition. The leading cause of vision loss among people over the age of 50, AMD is a gradual deterioration of the macula, the central part of the retina at the back of the eye which is responsible for sharp central vision. Because the vision loss is gradual, many people with AMD are unaware of it in the early stages, but signs of it can be detected by your optometrist before you experience problems, which is why it is important to have regular eye examinations.|
Wet and Dry Macular Degeneration
There are two main types of age-related macular degeneration, wet and dry. The vision loss from dry AMD happens slowly and is usually not as severe as that from wet AMD. In a small percentage of cases, dry AMD can lead to the wet form.
Most people with AMD have the dry form, which is linked to deposits on the macula called drusen. These consist of cellular products, which are thought to be waste products from the retina. A few small drusen are unlikely to cause vision problems, but as they become bigger and more numerous and the macula becomes thinner, vision may become distorted and a blurred spot in central vision may appear. In an eye examination, your optometrist is able to observe drusen on the retina before vision is affected and will monitor them regularly for changes.
Wet AMD is less common but more serious than dry AMD, progressing more rapidly and causing more severe vision loss. It occurs as extra abnormal blood vessels develop underneath the macula. These vessels leak blood and other fluids, leading to distorted vision and blind spots, eventually forming a scar and resulting in permanent damage and loss of central vision.
Risk Factors for AMD
The risk for developing macular degeneration involves an interaction between genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. As the name implies, AMD is more common in people over the age of 50. It occurs more frequently in females than males. Other factors that may contribute to the risk include high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a diet high in fat and sugar and certain medications. Smoking increases the risk because it reduces the amount of oxygen that goes to different parts of the body, including the eyes. The chances of AMD may increase following cataract surgery.
Symptoms of AMD
In the initial stages of the disease there may be no noticeable signs or symptoms. As it progresses, you may become aware of a gradual or sudden change in the quality of your vision. Straight lines may appear wavy or distorted and there may be dark blurry areas in your central vision. Reading of fine print may become difficult. In certain cases, there may be a change in the perception of colour.
Diagnosis of AMD
A routine eye examination can detect age-related macular degeneration before vison changes are noticed. One of the most common early signs is drusen, tiny yellow spots under the retina. As part of the assessment, the optometrist may use an Amsler grid, a pattern of straight lines. If the lines appear wavy or some lines are missing, this could be an indication of AMD. Procedures may be performed to detect new or leaking blood vessels or the presence of fluid or blood beneath the retina.
Once the diagnosis has been made, it is essential to have regular eye examinations to monitor the progress of the condition.
Treatment of AMD
There is no cure for macular degeneration and lost vision cannot be restored, but certain treatments can slow the progression of the disease. Research is ongoing into measures to be put in place and effective treatment to be administered before irreversible damage to the tissues in the eye can occur. Discuss treatment options with your optometrist who will refer you to an ophthalmologist if necessary.
With dry AMD, it has been found that there may be some benefit to taking nutritional supplements of vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc and copper, and to include foods rich in these nutrients in the diet. To help treat wet AMD, medication is available to block the creation of new blood vessels and reduce leaking of blood. Laser therapy may be effective in destroying abnormal blood vessels.
There is rarely total loss of vision with AMD. Low vision aids are available to help people make the most of their remaining vision and continue with their daily activities as much as possible.
Adjusting to Life with AMD
In addition to affecting activities of daily life, AMD may have an emotional and social impact. Many people are afraid of becoming less self-sufficient and more dependent on others as the condition worsens. “It can feel socially isolating. It can make me feel awkward and self-conscious when someone can see me, but I can’t see them.”
Some lifestyle adjustments may need to be made to accommodate the difficulties. One sufferer commented that “Its OK to cry at the diagnosis but then its important to realise all the good things you have and to get on with living”.
Taking care of oneself with exercise, a healthy diet and not smoking can reduce the risk for AMD and possibly slow its progression. Consult your optometrist on issues such as nutritional supplements, vision aids and technology that would be helpful, such as audiobooks and electronic readers. Establish a support system. Although it is not easy for some people, ask for and accept help when necessary.
“I have dealt with my share of sadness over having AMD, but sadness is definitely not the word that comes up for me when thinking about my life. Challenge? Sure. Adventure? Yes. Joy? Absolutely.”
UNIQUE AS A FINGERPRINT
| No one else in the world has the same eye colour as you. Contrary to popular belief, eye colour is not simply the result of a combination between the colours of your parents’ eyes; rather, it is dependent on the interaction of multiple genes. Eye colour depends on the amount and distribution of a pigment in the iris called melanin. The iris is made up of two layers. Most eye colours have a lot of melanin on the back layer and the differences in eye colour come from the amount of melanin on the front layer. The more melanin, the darker the eyes will be. Besides giving the eyes colour, melanin helps to protect them from the sun. While you may share a similar eye colour with someone, how much melanin is in the iris and how it is distributed is unique to each person, as unique as a fingerprint!|
An estimated 70% to 90% of people worldwide have brown eyes. However, the shades of brown vary greatly depending on the region where someone is born. Brown-eyed people in Europe tend to have lighter hues while people born in Asia and Africa with brown eyes tend to have darker eyes. Due to the amount of melanin, brown eyes are naturally more protected from the sun than lighter eyes.
Between 8% and 10% of people in the world have blue eyes, most commonly in Europe. People with blue eyes tend to have greater light sensitivity and better night vision than people with eyes of a different colour and are more likely to have red eye in photos.
Only about 2% of people have green eyes which are most common in Northern, Central and Western Europe. Green eyes are not due only to the amount of melanin in the eye, but also to the optical effect of light scattering off the melanin which makes them appear green.
People with hazel eyes have almost as much melanin as those with brown eyes, but it is distributed around the edge rather than the center of the iris. The term comes from the fact that this eye colour looks like a hazelnut, a light or yellowish-brown colour with specks of gold, green and brown.
Grey eyes contain less melanin than is found in blue eyes and scatter light differently. Throughout the world, only about 3% of people have grey eyes. Depending on factors like lighting and clothing, grey eyes may appear to change colour.
Amber eyes are rare but can be found throughout the world. Amber is a golden yellow or coppery colour without specks of gold, green, or brown. The iris contains mostly the pigment lipochrome and not much melanin.
Pink or red eyes
People with albinism have little to no melanin in their skin, hair and irises. In some cases, only the eyes are affected. If the condition is mild, the eyes are usually light blue or violet. In rare cases, the irises are clear due to a lack of melanin, and the eyes may appear pink or red because the blood vessels are visible. Albinism is usually associated with severe vision problems.
With this condition the eyes are different colours. It may be complete, in which case one iris is a different colour from the other, or partial when one part of the iris is a different colour. It may be present at birth or develop later and is generally harmless. The striking eyes of actresses Mila Kunis and Angelina Jolie, and actors Kiefer Sutherland and Ralph Fiennes are due to heterochromia.
Eye Colour at Birth
When babies are born, they have light-coloured eyes because they have very little melanin in their eyes. Melanin production is stimulated by light. Eye colour changes over time, but due to a complex interaction of genetic factors, it is impossible to predict what colour the eyes will be as the baby gets older. It is possible for a child to have an eye colour that neither parent has. Typically, the biggest changes in eye colour occur gradually in the first 6 to 9 months of the baby’s life. By 12 months most babies have their permanent eye colour, although in some rare cases, changes may occur until the age of 6 years.
Eye Colour Changes
Because eye colour is due to reflected light, blue, green, and even hazel eyes can appear to change a little in different lighting conditions. Pupil dilation and contrast with skin or hair colour and even clothing can cause the eyes to seem a different colour. However, once it is set in childhood, the eyes can’t naturally change to a completely different colour.
There is a belief that eye colour changes with different mood states, but this is a myth, and there are explanations other than mood to account for apparent changes. For example, eyes can look darker when someone is experiencing extreme happiness or a period of grief. The pupil is more dilated at these times, creating the illusion that the eyes have become darker. Contrast is responsible for eyes appearing greener when you are angry. Anger can cause the blood vessels to dilate and become redder. This colouring can make it seem that your eyes are greener, but it is just the contrast to the redness that is causing this effect.
Eye Colour and Eye Health
Certain factors can cause the eyes to change colour or in some cases changes to other parts of the eye can make the iris look different. These factors include disease, medications, trauma and aging. Eye colour change can be harmless, or it can signal a more serious problem. Schedule an appointment with your optometrist if changes are noticed and seek immediate medical attention if the change is sudden.
Iris freckles may cause the iris to appear changed in colour. These small brown spots on the surface of the iris are common and usually harmless and are often related to sun exposure, like freckles on the skin. Less common than iris freckles, iris nevi are larger freckles or dark growths on the eye that look like a mole. Nevi are caused by pigment cells called melanocytes. They are usually harmless and slow growing but can be a risk for cancer so should be regularly monitored.
Anisocoria is a condition in which one of the pupils is larger than the other, making the affected eye appear darker than the other. Some people are born with this condition, in which case the size difference is small. The difference is more prominent when the cause is a stroke, brain injury or eye trauma. Sudden onset anisocoria should be evaluated immediately.
Arcus senilis is a common usually harmless condition that affects older people. As we age, cholesterol may build up and form a hazy blue or white ring around the cornea.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye, behind the pupil, that makes it look milky or grey. Cataracts are common with aging and affect vision. In most cases, they can be successfully removed with surgery.
Uveitis is an inflammation of the middle layer of the eyeball usually caused by infection, trauma or exposure to toxins. It can make the white of the affected eye look red. There may be a noticeable change in eye colour if the iris sticks to the lens and changes the pupil’s size or shape. Uveitis requires immediate medical attention.
Injury or trauma to the eye can damage the iris, causing tissue loss and making the eye colour appear changed.
Certain chronic medications can cause permanent eye colour changes, usually making eyes a darker shade of their natural colour over time.
Thanks to coloured contact lenses, it is possible to change the colour of the eyes. With the range of coloured contact lenses available, it is possible to achieve a subtle or more dramatic effect. However, certain precautions should be adhered to. Whether one needs a prescription for vision correction or not, contact lenses should always be fitted by an optometrist, rather than purchased at a market or novelty store. To prevent infection, follow the cleaning instructions of the optometrist and never share contact lenses with anyone.
| Everyone experiences them at one time or another. Everyone finds them irritating. But they generally don’t last long and are seldom cause for concern. Eyelid twitches or myokymia are painless repetitive involuntary contractions of the muscles of the eyelids. There are many myths and superstitions from around the world surrounding this phenomenon. These range from predicting an unexpected visitor to receiving riches. They vary depending which eye is twitching, if you are male or female and even which part of the eye is twitching. They may be believed to be a sign of good or bad luck, good or bad news, or if someone is saying good or bad things about you.|
Episodes of eyelid twitching are unpredictable, usually occurring every few seconds for a few minutes. They may appear on and off for a day or two and then not for weeks or months, although occasionally some people experience them all day for weeks or even months. The upper eyelid is affected more often than the lower lid, but twitching may occur in both or either. If the spasms are strong enough, they could cause the eyelids to close completely and then reopen, rather than simply twitching. They are more prevalent during the day than at night.
Typically, eye twitching disappears as spontaneously as it begins and is generally not associated with any illness or medical condition. There is a variety of lifestyle factors that can account for eyelid twitching, most of them linked to stress, fatigue or eye strain, and sometimes to caffeine or alcohol consumption, or a side effect of certain medications. Eye strain or vision-related stress as the result of a change in prescription or need for new glasses or excessive time spent in front of a computer may lead to eye twitching. Jaw clenching or teeth grinding, particularly during sleep can exacerbate eyelid spasms. According to some experts, eyelid twitching could be due to a nutritional imbalance, specifically a magnesium deficiency.
There are some cases in which eye twitching is a sign of an eye condition such as dry eyes or blepharitis, a chronic inflammation of the eyelid which may cause twitching. Blepharospasm can be extremely uncomfortable and may become worse over time, resulting in symptoms such as increased sensitivity to light and blurry vision. Very rarely, twitching may be indicative of a neurological condition such as Bell’s Palsy or Parkinson’s disease, in which case it would be associated with symptoms in other parts of the body and require medical management.
It is not necessary to seek medical intervention for eyelid twitching unless the twitch is persistent or becomes worse, the eyelid closes completely, the upper eyelid droops, other facial muscles are involved or there is redness, swelling or a discharge from the eye.
There is no specific treatment for twitching. If it is triggered by stress, fatigue, eye strain or excess caffeine, try to eliminate or at least reduce these factors. Cut down on caffeine intake, catch up on sleep and take regular breaks from the computer. Meditation and relaxation techniques may be helpful in minimising stress. Keeping the eyes lubricated with artificial tears or applying a cold or warm compress to the eyes may ease the discomfort. Although there is no cure for blepharitis, it may be treated with a prescribed cream or scrub for the eyelids to reduce the symptoms. In severe cases of blepharospasm, Botox injections or surgery may be indicated to ease the spasms.
ENHANCE YOUR LOOK
|Wearing glasses is no reason to hide your eyes behind the lenses, when you can make the glasses work for you in more ways than one. Take advantage of the chance to enhance the natural beauty of your eyes and add to the overall look with well-applied makeup. As a wearer of glasses, applying makeup can be daunting but a few simple guidelines can make it easy and even enjoyable.|
The frames you choose will impact on makeup options, with different frames creating different looks. Ensure that the frames complement the shape of your face and highlight your best features. Lighter or rimless frames allow for heavier eye makeup, while heavier darker frames lend themselves to more neutral makeup. With bigger frames, more of the eyes will show so makeup can be more daring.
Different makeup rules apply for different prescriptions. The lenses for people who are shortsighted can make the eyes appear smaller, so they need to use makeup that draws attention to the eyes. Conversely, people who wear glasses for farsightedness generally find that their eyes are magnified by the lenses, taking attention from the rest of the face. In order to reduce this effect, they would need to adopt more low-key makeup.
“Putting on makeup is so time-consuming” complained one woman. “I have to take my glasses on and off all the time.” Applying makeup when one is unable to see clearly without glasses can be a challenge, both time-consuming and exhausting. Luckily, there are a number of easier options. To avoid having to be extremely close to the mirror, some people prefer a magnifying mirror, or a small hand mirror. Good lighting makes all the difference. Special glasses are available that make it possible to apply makeup to one eye while being able to see what you are doing with the other. The lens either pivots from one eye to the other or hinged lenses can be flipped down one at a time, allowing you to make up one eye with clear vision in the other. A suggestion is that when you get a new pair of glasses don’t get rid of your old ones. Gently loosen the lenses so that you can pop one lens out a time when putting on makeup.
Facial cosmetics like foundation have a tendency to smear against frames and cause glasses to slip and slide down the bridge of the nose. A matte moisturiser on the bridge of the nose helps to prevent this. Once the makeup has been applied, a setting spray will preserve the look and keep glasses in place.
Glasses highlight the brow bone, so keep eyebrows in perfect shape. Sometimes frames create shadows or the illusion of dark circles under the eyes. A yellow-tinted concealer will hide this unwanted effect.
Being too bold with eye shadow can be overwhelming. Choose eye shadow that is simple and bright, using a colour that gives a natural enhancement to the eyes. If the lenses of your glasses make your eyes appear too big, reduce the effect with matte or liquid eye shadows, and avoid glittery eye shadows which tend to make the eyes look larger. Light rather than darker eye shadows will have an enlarging effect on eyes which appear small behind glasses.
If you use eyeliner, try to match the thickness of the liner to the thickness of the frames, so that it is not too overpowering. A cat eye flick at the corner of the eye has become fashionable, and it works well with glasses, accentuating the eyes. Overdoing eyeliner can make the eyes look smaller, particularly if it is a dark colour.
While false eyelashes frame and widen the eyes, they are not advisable for people who wear glasses, as long false lashes can brush against the lenses causing streaking and irritating the eyes. Rather opt for a mascara that emphasises volume and thickness over length, showing off the natural lashes in the best possible way without getting in the way of glasses. Apply mascara more to the roots than the tips of lashes so that they won’t smear the lenses of your glasses.
Glasses draw immediate attention to the eye area and upper face. The right choice of lipstick will balance and complete the total look. If you prefer a natural no-makeup look, bright lips will add a splash of colour. A natural colour or even a sheer lip gloss will complement any pair of glasses.
The secret is to create a personal “eyecatching” effect by experimenting with different looks until you find the one that works for you.
WINDS OF STRANGE
| I’m not sure whether August actually was “the windy month” when we were growing up, or whether it just had a reputation for being “the windy month”. It could’ve been both. But either way, I remember the anticipation as July came to an end. It was almost as if people were nailing down their valuables and (literally) holding onto their hats.|
And with the wind came its side effects: dust in the eyes, sand in the eyes, and sometimes simply having wind blow wind into one’s eyes. Considering the redness and irritation, this should probably be an article about how to protect your eyes from the (allegedly) windiest month of the year.
But it isn’t.
This is something a little more symbolic, with pretensions towards becoming poetic. It’s about the things that the world has blown into our eyes. The things that have caused irritation and scratchiness. The things that have made it difficult to see where we are or where we’re going. We started a new decade – most of us anyway – with a clear vision of what 2020 was going to look like. And then? A gust came up that nobody expected. We didn’t even have time to hold onto our hats.
This gust (to stretch the metaphor to its breaking point) blew things into our eyes that made us uncomfortable. We’ve struggled to see what’s right in front of us, and there’s no chance of seeing what lies in the distance. We squinted our way through total lockdown, wondering whether we’ll ever see another glass of wine again.
But sometimes, the wind blows everything clean. Like the Indian skies when there was no pollution during lockdown, or the canals of Venice that could show off their ocean life because no tourist boats were making the water all murky. Sometimes the wind blows our eyes clean and we can see things in new ways. Just like you’ll hear on every ad on TV: “new normal”, “far apart but closer together”, “connected in new ways”. It’s tempting to make fun of all those super-cheesy ads. Except that in many ways they seem to be right.
We didn’t expect to be here in August 2020. But as we’ve done all our lives, we waited for the wind. We knew it was coming, and it did. And with it came some scratchiness and uncomfortableness, giving us no choice but to power through it.
We’ve struggled to see through misted-up glasses but we haven’t given up. And until someone finds a solution to COVID Mask Lens Fog, we’ll fumble our way through.