The 2013-2014 beijingkids Health Guide is the latest resource for Beijing families dedicated to providing information on family health care, maternity, eating and breathing safety, mental health, emergency care and traditional Chinese Medicine. Articles from the guide will be featured twice a week on our website. Find the full version here.
Eye care in China is as good as it anywhere else in the world, but the country’s massive population makes treating common eye ailments a distinct challenge.
“China is definitely a country where myopia [short sightedness- is seen frequently,” says Dr. Zhang Xiaosheng, an eye specialist at the Vista Clinic. “One major reason is that it is hereditary, so it can be passed on by genetics. The other reason is the social aspect, meaning that since children are becoming literate at an earlier age, they are using their active reading eyes more and more and exposing themselves to eye exhaustion much more quickly than in previous decades.”
Considering the myopic genes that are so common in the East Asian population and the popularity of computers, smartphones and tablets, it’s small wonder that more kids are suffering from eye conditions at younger ages than ever before.
This past May a BBC story cited that around 90 percent of high school graduates in urban Asia are myopic (nearsighted), a figure that was contrasted with the UK’s 20 to 30 % level of myopia in its student population. The report traced to root of the problem in Asia to over-worked students missing out on outdoor light because they are pressured to study for hours on end, leaving them with little time for the “exposure to between two and three hours of daylight (that) acts as a counterbalance and helps maintain healthy eyes.”
Kelly Wang, an ophthalmologist at Oasis hospital, says the problem may not be as calamitous as it appears: “The proportion varies in different areas and different age ranges. Myopia is a common condition, affecting one in four adults worldwide.” But she does concede that it is a growing concern, especially with the popularity of reading from electronic devices:
“Place the screen 20-26 inches away from your eyes and a little below eye level,” she advises, adding that reading too closely from our computer monitors is a very damaging factor and how regularly cleaning off dust and fingerprints from the screen can help.
Sherry Chen, an ophthalmologist at the Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU), says she has also noticed an increase in myopic patients at her facility. “iPads are so popular these days, you can see almost everyone hold one everywhere. Some parents use it as baby-sitter to keep their kids quiet. We have seen nearsightedness in preschool children – too much time with iPads and iPhones may be one of the reasons. Parents should control the time that children spend with electric devices and encourage them to be outdoors.”
Wang adds that Beijing’s citizens, and newcomers who have yet to become accustomed to the city’s notorious pollution levels, have another cause for eye health concern: “Foreigners in Beijing should be careful of some damage from the air pollution,” she says, before explaing how squinting through the smog can impact our vision. “Heavy air pollution can make the eye irritated and easy to be affected by the bacteria or viruses. I suggest that everyone should wash their hands frequently.”
Chen concurs, before listing a few other treatments that don’t require a doctor’s appointment, including artificial tears, anti-histamine eye drops, and a humidifier to cut down on the dryness of our living and working environments.
Unfortunately even those occasional bright, clear sunny days can cause eye problems. Wang explains that extensive exposure to UV rays can cause vision damage or even cataracts and suggests that people wear wide brimmed hats and sunglasses (especially those with polarized lenses) to protect their eyes.
Of course a good dose of Vitamin D from the sun is quite healthy on a balmy day, but Wang adds that other vitamins are equally crucial for your eyes: “Certain nutrients, such as antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, and vitamins A, C and E can promote eye health and reduce your risk of developing serious eye problems,” she says. “A healthy diet consisting of fruits, green leafy vegetables, fish and vitamin supplements may support your vision. Maintaining a healthy weight can also be important, as it can help prevent or control diseases such as diabetes, which can cause vision problems like diabetic retinopathy.”
Zhang says the level of consistency and discipline required in a healthy, eye friendly, diet should also be applied to vision tests. He says those of who suffer from regular headaches, but have never been prescribed a pair of glasses, could be experiencing signs of eye exhaustion, leading to a need for an eye exam. Those of us who already own a pair of spectacles still need to see our optometrists regularly, to ensure our prescription is up to date with our eyes’ condition. Dr. Zhang says Beijing has several hospitals that offer such services (including all of the facilities mentioned in this story). But he adds that there is one major discrepancy between vision health here and in other countries.
“The main difference between here and overseas is the awareness of eye problems. Lots of people here in China may go undiagnosed and suffer some side effects without recognizing where they originate from,” he says, adding that lack of awareness makes regular eye exams all the more crucial. “In China you can definitely have the same quality of eye care that you can have in your home country, so you should not be discouraged and you should see an optometrist regularly.”
This article originally appeared on page 14-15 of the beijingkids Health Guide.
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