Friday, February 3, 2012

Eye Opener

My eyes have been bugging me for years. First I began noticing that I couldn't see things far away. That was about 1998, and so I got glasses in 1999.

But as a very active person, and perhaps somewhat vain one too, I hated wearing glasses. They get dirty, they're a pain to wear when exercising, and I hated the way they made me look. So a few years later I switched to contact lenses.

But I had difficulty with contacts right from the start because of my stigmatism and extremely dry eyes. It's always been a challenge for my eye doctor to find lenses for me that fit properly and are comfortable and over the years I've tried a zillion different kinds.

After suffering from repeated eye infections and contemplating, and then ruling out laser eye surgery, I switched to daily wear lenses last year and the situation improved...somewhat.

I have not had any eye infections since I made the change, but I continue to suffer from very dry eyes, which means I wake up feeling like they are full of glue, and then when I go out into the cold, dry winter air, they run constantly (messing up my makeup!).

My doctor determined that the dryness is not because I have a low volume of tears, but because my tears are too thick. The cause of this is unclear, although she feels it may be related to my hypothyroid. My endocrinologist isn't convinced of this connection though.

Last year, my eye doctor suggested that I use moisturizing drops several times a day and rub my eyes with a hot compress in the shower every morning. I did this for...a week or two...and then stopped.

Why? Well, as I explained to her yesterday, I didn't think it was helping, and besides, once I ran out of the eye drop samples she gave me, I discovered they were crazy expensive, and since I wasn't convinced they were helping, I just gave up.

To say she was not impressed with me would be an understatement. She patiently explained to me that the drops are not likely to help if I am not regularly doing the hot compress in the shower. The hot compress wasn't working because...I was already wearing my contacts when I was doing it in the shower! This admission made her do a sharp intake of breath and she explained to me that wearing contacts in the shower is a BIG NO NO! It can lead to serious eye infections. Am I the only person who didn't know this?

The problem is, I work out before I shower every day and I hate wearing my glasses when I'm exercising. But clearly what I am doing is putting my eye health at risk.

Later, while sulking at home (because I couldn't see ANYTHING because of the damn drops she put in my eyes!) I thought about how it could be that I am so committed to other aspects of my health and wellbeing, but have not been good about protecting my sight. Not being able to see much, even for a few hours, drove me insane and made it extremely clear just how important my vision is to me.

I guess the nuisance of doing the things I had to do just didn't seem worth it when I didn't see any benefits right away. Suddenly a light bulb went on and I started to understand why so many people have difficulty committing to lifestyle changes. Why do so many people join a gym in January, only to go 4x week for 6 weeks and then never go again before their membership expires? They embark on a new activity expecting quick results and may not even be doing what they should be doing to get the results they are looking for! So they decide the effort isn't worth it and they give up.

So what's my point? I guess the point is that: if you are trying to adopt a new healthy behaviour, (1) give it time (it usually takes 6+ weeks for something to become a habit); (2) don't look for a quick fix - find changes you can make that you feel you can stick to long-term; and (3) ASK FOR HELP! If I had just called my eye doctor, I might have discovered sooner what I was doing wrong!!

Last night I decided to find a way to make it easier for me to maintain my eye health. I put a bottle of eye drops in our upstairs bathroom so I can use them each morning right before I put in my contacts immediately after waking. Then I put a contact lenses container and solution in the downstairs bathroom (where I shower) so that after my workout I can take them out before I get into the shower. I also put a washcloth in the shower so I can do the hot compress and another bottle of eye drops to use again, before putting my lenses back in following my shower.

I tried out this new system this morning, and truly all these extra steps in my morning routine did not take long at all. Besides, when I weigh the costs versus benefits of taking care of my eyes, it is absolutely worth it!

I am fortunate that it did not take a health crisis (a serious eye infection, or other thing causing permanent damage!) to bring me to this realization. Don't let it be a health crisis that opens your eyes to the importance of taking care of your health.

Do not overlook the importance of ocular health! You should have your eyes checked every year. In Ontario, OHIP covers an annual eye exam for persons aged 20 and under and those aged 65 and older. OHIP will also cover major eye exams once per year for individuals with any serious medical condition requiring regular eye exams.

If you have extended health insurance, your plan likely provides you for coverage for an annual eye exam. If you live in the GTA, Richmond's Hill's optician service, Optical Eye Works, is currently offering eye examss for $49 (regularly $70) from now until February 29th. Visit their website for more information:

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