I'm here today at the Queen St OPSM for an eye examination with their fancy new Digital Retinal Scanner, or DRS as it's known. Looking at the retina at the back of the eye, it's going to take a photo of my eye and show up any early signs of glaucoma, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration and even some forms of cancer.
And I am very comfortable with eye examinations. I had them annually when I was wearing contact lenses which I did for close to 20 years and still have them bi-annually.
I used to go to an optometrist in London who was just like Mr Bean, all bendy and awkward. I'd take great delight in making him put my contact lenses back in after my eye exam. He would lurch towards me, breathing heavily with my contact lens on the end of his finger. This would make me laugh so much my eyes would crinkle and he had no chance of getting them in.
OPSM optometrist and National Eyecare Manager Matt Whiting bears no resemblance to Mr Bean, but is quite entertaining, showing me some gruesome medical pictures of eyes with various diseases - they look like planets where some nasty explosions have happened. He shows me the DRS picture of my eye which has me almost reaching for a bucket, but apparently it's very healthy. The veins on it are doing what they should do rather than being kinked - a sign of high blood pressure. Matt looks at my optic nerve - nerve fibres that carry visual information from the retina to the brain. The optic cup looks good and the right size. If it increases in size that's a sign of glaucoma. The first sign of glaucoma, by the way, is your peripheral vision starts to go.
I am also checked for macular degeneration an age-related condition, worsened by smoking, sun exposure and bad diet. The macula is at the centre of the retina and is the part of the eye that we use for reading. My macula is an unattractive cloudy ash colour but this is great apparently. With a bad condition, it will be darker as more blood goes into that area. Matt shows me some scary examples from his Clinical Opthamology book.
Sun exposure is one of Matt's bugbears. He recommends 100 per cent UV protection sunglasses for adults and kids. He says it's surprising how many people are not aware of the impact of UV exposure to the eyes. I have always been sensitive to the sun, so pop them on as soon as there so much as a gleam in the sky. Who's laughing now, eh?
Matt recommends I get my eyes checked annually. It's just something people over 40 should do he says. To keep good eye health, Matt recommends eating antioxidants - this really slows macular degeneration. He also recommends reading in good light : your mother was right, bad light can strain your eyes.
Another tip is to take plenty of computer screen breaks. Matt is finding a lot of people are coming in with headaches, dizziness and trouble focusing. Their problem is they are not using their focusing muscles enough when taking screen breaks. He recommends looking up and far into the distance to exercise the eye. So make like a male model, next time you take a screen break.
Flu symptoms, a rash across my stomach and itchy palms has me racing to the internet looking for answers. I become convinced that I have shingles and I arrive at my GP with my diagnosis, prepared for the worst.