How to cope with eye disease
By Hari Raghavan, Pure Matters
The summer before 7th grade, in a bizarre attempt to give myself a complete fashion makeover that I was sure would take my Gifted & Talented classmates by storm, I begged my mother to take me for a visit to the Specialists.
"I want glasses! And … braces. Please, mother!"
She was a bit disturbed, I think, but being the doting woman that she was and still is, she simply made a quick no-going-back disclaimer and complied with my demands. We made appointments to see an optometrist and a family dentist, and I waited impatiently with clenched fists and closed eyes, dreaming of headgear, thick tortoise frames, and a school full of jealous pre-teens ….
Well, it kind of worked out for me. The braces were a no-go ("Son, I'm sorry, but you simply do not need braces and I cannot give them to you. Please don't cry.") and I still had a tear in my eye when we drove down the street to visit Dr. Iman, who greeted me in his office with equal parts confused generosity and professionalism.
"My boy, your vision is nearly perfect. I suppose, if you'd like, I could give you a very small prescription in your left eye, but it really isn't necessary and I don't think—"
"I'll take it!" I said, and initiated a group hug between myself, Iman, and my poor mother.
Ten years later and my eye issues had taken on a life of their own. Glasses were still not terribly useful to me, but now it was because I had been diagnosed with a corneal disease called keratoconus, and neither eyeglasses nor soft contact lenses could provide me with a workable degree of visual acuity. They just left me with blurry, detail-denying vision, which became particularly problematic when driving or reading.
The only option for me and many others afflicted by this disease -- which is characterized in part by thinning, misshapen corneas and corneal scarring -- was rigid gas-permeable ("hard") lenses; but even these are not ideal because RGPs can lead to intense discomfort if not properly fit. Keratoconus patients require a certain degree of "artistry" in the fitting of their lenses, and since most doctors lack this particular impulse, I often have to remove my lenses and am left with a sort of French Impressionist view of the world.
There's a light at the end of the tunnel, though, as I've recently been discovering some "home remedies" that have helped me keep my eyes in decent health as they continue to deteriorate. Despite the occasional setback, I've been able to better tolerate sub-par lenses and know that I'm doing all that I personally can to support my corneas and encourage them to heal. It feels pretty good.
A few months ago I heard about omega-3 fish oil, which is known, among other things, for its ability to produce tears due to anti-inflammatory properties. I'm not exactly sure how it helped me, but I quickly noticed that I was able to tolerate my lenses longer. An ophthalmologist familiar with my condition recently told me that it was indeed a good idea to take fish oil for my eyes, so I've continued on a daily basis.
Message boards and other patient-moderated online venues are often my go-to source for KC info, since it's rather hard (and pricey) to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. Plus, others who have the disease often have invaluable, practical insight that they're eager to share -- and I'm sure this is true for any disease or medical condition.
Lately, I've been seeing a number of posts about vitamin A and other antioxidant-rich supplements, to take in conjunction with omega-3 or by themselves. Although I plan to use this combo (I started taking my "A" pills this week) with KC in mind, from what I've been seeing, it seems that vitamin A could also benefit others who suffer from the much more widespread phenomenon known as … dry eyes! Due to regular contact lens wear, especially, dry, itchy, red eyes can cause anyone heartache.
Whether or not you have eye issues or wear contact lenses, taking vitamin A is a pretty good idea. True, it's well-known for promoting corneal health (that's exactly what I need) and general vision health (carrots are a major source, kids) -- but it's also a boon to your immune system, and can help out your skin and bones, too. To be honest, I haven't taken many supplements in my lifetime, but this is one I'm excited about and I hope it gets me on course to trying some other products for general or specific ailments.
I wish I could go back and tell my 13-year-old self that he looks just fine without glasses. And more importantly, that he should enjoy perfect sight as long as he can. But it is what it is, and I'm going to keep reading up, and keep trying new things to help myself and my condition, because even small improvements make a big difference. In my experience, feeling in control of your body -- by taking supplements or exercising or changing your diet -- is often as essential to good health and having a positive outlook as a visit to the doctor. And I've also learned that braces, while definitely not ugly or uncool, are certainly not a required accessory.
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