Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob
“Special offer!” Or: “Guaranteed the lowest price, buy now and receive a gift.” Online contact lens shops like to advertise with special offer packs. Customers get a year’s supply of soft lenses for peanuts. “Don’t do it,” says Henny Beckers, ophthalmologist at MUMC+ and associate professor: “Eyes are vulnerable, look after them. You can’t have your eyes checked by an optometrist or optician [the former checks to see if the eyes are healthy, the latter measures the strength and focus] online or at the Hema or Kruidvat, where they sell soft contact lenses off the shelf. The fit is often not good, and if you turn out to be allergic to the cleaning liquid or you have a small wound in the cornea due to poor hygiene, this may lead to infection.”
She sees a rise in the number of complaints: “Where we used to see approximately a hundred cases of inflammation of the cornea a year ending up in hospital, those numbers have now doubled, mostly young people. It can lead to hospitalisation, having to use antibiotic drops for months, and sometimes even a corneal transplant.”
Soft lenses are made from water-absorbent material (“think of it as a sponge”) and this makes them a great place for bacteria and other microorganisms. Such as “the acanthamoeba” that can be found in tap water.
Daytime lenses are the best solution, the ophthalmologist reckons. “Those who nevertheless prefer to wear lenses for a month or a year, should try to prevent problems by cleaning them every day, along with the lens container. This applies to all lenses, whether you buy them online or from an optician.
Regular visits to the optician are not just advisable for people who wear lenses. “Certainly if you are over forty and if there are members of your family who suffer from glaucoma, it is good to have your eyes screened by an optometrist or ophthalmologist and to have the pressure measured regularly,” says glaucoma specialist Beckers. Glaucoma is an eye condition in which the eye nerve is damaged, often as a result of high intraocular pressure, and it is “one of the main causes of blindness. You don’t always notice it immediately; your sight slowly becomes blurred. The danger? The disorder is irreversible, it cannot be corrected. Approximately 160 thousand people in the Netherlands know that they have glaucoma, but we estimate that the same number is not aware that they have this condition.”
As we are speaking to an ophthalmologist: should we continue to eat carrots? “No, that is an old wives’ tale. I would rather recommend leafed vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach. These contain lutein, a substance that is said to protect the retina.”
Spend less time reading or using the iPad? “Certainly in today’s society, where children not only read books but also spend a lot of time looking at screens and don’t spend enough time outdoors, chances of developing short-sightedness are greater.” How does that happen? The muscle around the lens, which enables the eye to focus on something nearby, cramps up, distorting the eyeball. Sight does remain focused for nearby objects but becomes blurry in the distance.
Beckers quotes from specialist literature: “the impending wave of near-sightedness will become an enormous national health problem.” “In 2050, half of the world’s population will be near-sighted, five times as many as in 2000. In China, 96 per cent of all 19-year-old males already wear glasses or lenses. The pressure to study hard is enormous.”
Last year, Chinese research showed that if children spend more time outdoors, their sight improves because of the combination of sunlight and activity, partly because they focus more often on distant objects. That is why we say: “Let your children spend at least three hours outside every day.”
This is a series in which academics shoot down popular myths