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The Checkered Eye Project

People wearing this symbol have partial blindness aka low vision.



Lifestyle and your sight.

This month’s blog is from Lisa Bonet, a health-writer whose family member had vision trouble due to a condition they thouhght was unrelated to eye health.  The article she contributed contains several links, some of which contain a bit more advertising than I like, but they all direct to relevant information so I’ve left them in. 


When we think about our eyes and their health, we don’t necessarily tend to assume things like our body weight, or other factors like drinking and smoking as being something that would affect them. However, poor lifestyle choices – not all necessarily related to diet can actually have a detrimental effect on your vision and the overall well-being of your eyes. For further explanation on how you can help protect your visual health with sensible living, please read the article below which offers practical advice on eye care and how to protect yourself against the potential for problems to develop.

Poor Lifestyle Choices Damage Your Vision Too

Although you probably take your vision for granted, it might be time to take better care of your eyes, as the number of people in the US who suffer from poor eyesight that isn’t correctable with lenses is on the increase. While researchers believe the increasing number of eye problems is closely linked to the growing number of cases of type 2 diabetes, which when poorly controlled is a common cause of blindness, diabetes isn’t the only factor related to lifestyle that can put your eye health at risk. You’re no doubt already familiar with the need to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV light and the development of cataracts, but there are various other steps you can take to safeguard your eye health. In fact, you may not realize that lifestyle choices linked to chronic health problems are also bad news for your eyesight.


Not many people have heard of it, but around 100,000 people suffer from idiopathic intracranial hypertension in the US, and what most of them have in common is that they are significantly overweight. Typical symptoms include blind spots, poor vision in the periphery, double vision and temporary loss of sight. However, as many as 10% of people with the condition lose their sight permanently. While drugs used in the treatment of glaucoma show promise for managing idiopathic intracranial hypertension, losing as little as 5% of your body weight can improve symptoms, and avoiding excess weight gain can prevent the problem arising from the outset.


Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness in older adults and while advancing age and a family history of the disease is most commonly associated with its development, whether you smoke also influences your risk of this eye condition. Indeed, research indicates that smoking makes you more than twice as likely to develop age-related macular degeneration as a non-smoker, with recent investigations showing that tar and other components of cigarette smoke are deposited in the retina. If you already smoke, this is yet another reason to encourage you to quit.

Heavy Drinking

While you probably don’t imagine that the amount you drink could harm your eyes, there is evidence to suggest this is the case. Current alcohol recommendations advise that women should drink no more than 7 drinks over the week and men at most 14 drinks, with a study showing that having more than 2 alcoholic drinks daily makes you significantly more likely to need cataract surgery. However, there is no need to avoid alcohol altogether, as the same study found that drinking within recommended limits poses a lower risk of cataracts than not drinking at all.

Poor Intake of Micronutrients

Although it is often said that eating carrots regularly aids your vision thanks to their beta-carotene content, this isn’t the only nutrient that you need for good eyesight. Your body also needs a daily supply of lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, as they all have different roles in promoting the health of your eyes. As these nutrients are provided by a diverse range of foods, from oily fish for omega-3 fatty acids to green and orange fruit and vegetables for lutein, it is essential that you eat a balanced diet every day, including all food groups. Failure to do so can leave you short on micronutrients, which in the long-term can impair your vision. While a balanced micronutrient supplement offers a safety net, the same benefits may not be gained as obtaining these vitamins and minerals naturally from foods.


Regular exercise doesn’t simply keep your heart and lungs in good condition and help you to maintain a healthy weight, it may also offer protection against age-related macular degeneration. Even though this is still a relatively new area of research, scientists demonstrated in animal studies that an hour of exercise on 5 days of the week protected the structure and function of the retina when exposed to conditions likely to induce damage. Indeed, mice who exercised had twice as many functioning photoreceptors after exposure to bright light than the inactive mice did. Although studies in humans are needed to see whether an active lifestyle protects against retinal damage over time, with the range of health benefits already offered by physical activity, taking daily exercise is advisable.

Poor Sexual Health

Sexually transmitted infections don’t just infect your reproductive organs; they can affect your eye health as well. You may be aware that chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause pink eye, but did you know that it is also possible for herpes to infect your eyes as well? Although infections of herpes are sometimes asymptomatic, when it affects your eyes you may notice signs of conjunctivitis and tiny skin lesions around your eye. If it is your initial outbreak, you may also experience a fever, headache and swollen lymph nodes. Whatever your symptoms, it is important you seek medical advice, as if untreated herpes in the eye can damage your cornea and permanently affect your vision. Once you have the herpes virus, it can recur at any time, though minimizing stress, achieving a balance between rest and exercise, and eating a nutritious diet help to enhance your immune function to reduce the risk of further outbreaks. However, the best action is to protect yourself from STIs by practicing safe sex and taking a yearly STD check to confirm you are free from these infections.

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Seeing at 16 - A post by guest blogger David MacBrien

David MacBrien is a long time friend of Checkered Eye Project Founder Libby THaw.  They worked together at a same day courier in downtown Toronto in the 1980s, and at least once a decade, celebrate their August birthdays together.

This photo depicts David playing an acoustic guitar.

My first encounter with the blind occurred when I was a fledgling guitar player in a Christian folk rock choir in the 60's. His name was Clint. Clint taught himself to play guitar overhand, which is an accomplishment on its own.


It was sort of a rite of passage when I was asked to take Clint into the concert for the first time. Aside from leading him past various patch chords, chairs , music stands and mic stands , it's important to remember that many of the churches we sang in were built when people were shorter. Clint, being a good six foot six, was always at risk of bumping his head. This gave me another dimension to worry about.


So once seated I thought, " What do I say to a blind guy?" Turns out, pretty much what you say to a sighted person. Clint and I developed this little joke, where I would whisper "cute girl looking at you 20 degrees left" and he would turn his head and wink.


I have found, though, that being funny can be be insensitive. I often open my mouth to change feet. Nobody likes being treated with pity but at the same time you can't ignore a disability. So where is that fine line?


Beats me! I just try to be kind and go from there.

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Perceiving My Perception

This photo depicts me standing in fron of a stuffed moose on the porch of an old tourist shop.

Recently I’ve had some illustrations of how hard it is for people to be able to understand what I can or can’t see.


I took a road trip with my sister Sue in early June.  We drove from Thunder Bay to Sudbury.  Sue has taken this drive many times and she knows how beautiful the scenery is.  As we drove along and I frequently exclaimed  “oh look at that”, she told me that she’d been puzzling for weeks about how she’d be able to describe to me the gorgeous vistas we’d be encountering all along our way.  Clearly she didn’t think I’d be able to see them.


Before our trip Sue and I had been in Thunder Bay to attend her daughter Kara’s graduation ceremony at Lakehead University.  Our Mom had also attended the event.  Having all come from out of town, Mom, Sue, and I all stayed together in a hotel.  My Mom brought her tablet with her and was struggling to get it connected to the hotel’s internet.  I got out my little magnifying glass and, with considerable difficulty, managed to get her connected.  As the evening went along, she’d periodically hand the tablet to me in order for me to do something for her.  Clearly she’d forget that I can’t see it very well.


It seems like there were 2 or 3 instances within a few days when my son Sam noticed that I spotted a little tiny wee spec of something on the floor or on a counter. Each time he’d ask in amazement “Mom, how did you see that?”


So if you’re an average sighted person, don’t feel bad if you make an assumption about what someone can’t see and then they point it out to you!  And if you’re a person with low vision, be patient with people who forget you can’t see well or who think you can see even less than you can!


P.S. During the northern Ontario road trip, I saw a moose grazing at the side of the road!  Yup, they're huge!

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