Can I Keep My Children Safe From Macular Degeneration?
Studies show that macular degeneration is, in fact, hereditary in some instances. Though genetics is not the only precursor to the macular degeneration, it is one that needs to be considered when battling this disease. Especially if you have a family. If you’re anything like me then you worry about everything in life twice; once for yourself and once for your children...and not always in that order.
Macular degeneration genetic risk
Knowing that the risk of developing macular degeneration increases with its genetic presence in family members certainly makes me wonder about my own children's risk. Because of this, it has also drastically shaped the way I parent. It has been imperative for me to understand how I can help my two sons now, in order to even possibly lessen the effects this disease could potentially have on them in the future. Besides having the genes for macular degeneration, my children have another risk ‘red flag’...their big giant blue eyes that they both inherited from their mama...the blue genes.
My children are still young. Even if you’re at a different stage of your life and your children are adults, I believe it is still worth having a conversation with them so they can make the best decisions for themselves on how to proceed with the knowledge. They may have their own children to worry about as well.
Blue light and macular degeneration
Nowadays, many people are on electronic devices frequently. Whether it be behind a computer at work or school, on our cell phones, watching movies, or playing video games, I know my sons and I are using electronic devices a lot.
In the past, both of my children have had glasses with special lenses that block the blue-light when using their electronic devices. Blue light is found both in nature via the sun (part of why it is important to wear sunglasses outside whenever possible), and in electronic devices such as computer screens, televisions, smartphones, and tablets. Blue light can damage our retinas. Now, you can turn the blue light off on many of these newer electronic devices, so that is how we combat this issue without the glasses.
Sunlight and macular degeneration
Hats and sunglasses help us protect our fragile eyes when outside. Remember, even on overcast or rainy days, the sun is still out. As long as sunglasses don’t hinder our field of vision, it’s a good idea to wear them whenever we can. Shades on car windows or tinted windows are another easy way to block the bright sun in the back seat of the car. The past few summers, I also started buying my sons sunglass goggles for the swimming pool. The sun reflects very brightly off the water and this is one way I feel I am protecting their eyes while they’re having fun!
One of my sons currently has prescription glasses while the other does not. My son with glasses has transition lenses so they automatically turn into sunglasses when he steps outside, protecting his possibly fragile retinas from the harsh sunlight. My other son wears his regular sunglasses as much as I can get him to.
Regular eye exams
It is always a good idea to get yearly check-ups with our optometrists, general practitioners and pediatricians to ensure our overall health. This is especially important for those of us with macular degeneration and our families in order to stay on top of our disease and monitor progression.
Understanding the risks
My children know that I’m a little bit of a crazy person about their eye care because of what’s going on in my own eyes. Talking about it openly has allowed them to understand why I ask them to do silly mom things like at least trying to eat their blueberries and yellow bell peppers. I hope to raise my children with the knowledge that can help them make the best decisions for their own eye health. Maybe it will stop them from feeling the need to frantically search for information late at night as I do from time to time.
Educating our children about the benefits of healthy eating at a young age helps shape their lifetime eating habits. Do my kids love broccoli and spinach? No. Not yet. But, they do understand why I like them to try to eat it. They know that their eyes and bodies need the nutrients that these vegetables provide. My children know what lutein is. Do yours? I like to think that each conversation we have about nutrition now will eventually help them with their dietary choices as they start to make them for themselves. Time will tell...cross your fingers and toes for me, please!
Exercise is an extremely important part of our overall health and eye health. A healthy body allows us to process our nutrients properly and keeps us at a healthy weight so there is less pressure ‘pulling’ on our retinas in our eyes. I write more about this in an article called "Why People with MD Don't Just Exercise to Get Skinny!"
Studies show that taking zinc supplements can be helpful in slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Though I do not have age-related macular degeneration, I personally treat my eyes as if I do because there is so little information out there currently for people with myopic macular degeneration.
In 2016, through genetic testing, I learned that zinc, which is often present in high doses in ‘eye vitamins’, harms my eyes instead of helping them. This is true for about 15% of people. This insight has helped me make the decision to not include any extra zinc in my sons’ child-appropriate daily vitamins just in case their eyes are also genetically sensitive to zinc like mine are. Once they are older, we will have them genetically tested as well to make sure. Eliminating extra zinc from their diets is the best option for them, for now.
Food and environmental allergens
My children and I were also recently tested to see what food and environmental allergens we may have sensitivities to. This test informed us of what our individual nutritional deficiencies are so we can be sure our family’s overall health is as good as it can be.
We get one life and one set of eyes. Don't wait until something happens to do something about this disease. Being proactive can not only help us cope with the hardships of vision loss, but can also help us protect our loved ones.
You never know how big small acts can be,
Do you still drive?