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STAY ON THE BALL.

Byline: NAN SPOWART

WE are always being told to take up sport to remain fit and healthy but that's not so easy if your eyes are failing as fast as your waistline.

Aerobics, swimming, squash or golf are a nightmare with spectacles on - but not everyone is able to wear contact lenses.

Footballer Edgar Davids, of Juventus and Holland, has a particular eye problem that might have ruined his career - except he found special "goggle glasses" which cut down the glare from sunlight and floodlights that affects his vision.

Once you hit the age of 40, normal vision gets worse. Most people's eyesight deteriorates after that age, with many finding that reading small print is a problem while objects in the distance are also blurred.

Before you toss out your squash racket and pack up your running gear, there are ways around it.

Advances in technology mean that there are more options than ever before for the optically challenged.

There are three main choices currently on the market, says Dr Caroline MacEwen, consultant opthalmologist at Ninewells Hospital, in Dundee, and author of Sports Vision.

She says: "You can have corrections made to your spectacles, wear contact lenses or have laser surgery to improve your sight.

"There are disadvantages and advantages for each sport. If you want excellent vision, for example, for shooting or archery, then the choice has to be spectacles.

"You won't get the necessary accuracy with anything else. With contact lenses, there is always a blur and laser is not suitable for maximum vision."

For contact sports, spectacles are obviously not the correct choice.

Dr MacEwen says: "You don't really need maximum vision for contact sports, so it is okay to wear soft contact lenses - not hard ones because, if they break, they will lacerate the eye."

There are now several kinds of contact lenses on the market - the latest is a new type of disposable bifocal, which promises to be more successful than its predecessors.

Until now, bifocal lenses have not been particularly successful, according to Motherwell-based optometrist Ewan Simpson.

Like bifocal glasses, they are designed to help people see objects in the distance more closely as well as being able to read small print.

Bifocal spectacles are made so that the wearer looks through one part of the glass into the distance and another part of the glass for close-up work.

Ewan says: "The problem is that a lot of people's brains just end up confused.

"We find that a lot of people try them, then come back saying they are making them feel dizzy."

The new Acuvue contact lenses, developed by Johnson and Johnson, are not so much bifocal as multifocal.

They have five concentric rings to cover near, middle and far vision. Unlike other lenses, they also allow for varying light - bright, medium and dim.

It means that the brain can choose the most suitable ring to focus through for the best possible vision.

So, rather than look up and down through two different lenses in spectacles, the pupil naturally seeks the ring in the contact lens which provides optimum vision.

A bonus is that they are disposable and optician Peter Ivins, director of opticians Black and Lizars, says: "That is the biggest breakthrough. People can now wear them part time for sport and there is not so much of a problem if they lose them."

For those involved in sport where reading is required - such as hill walking, orienteering with maps, sailing with charts, or playing golf, where you have to read a golf card, then the new lenses could be a real boon.

Mum-of-three Isabel MacKay is 45 and a keen hillwalker and badminton player. She decided to try Acuvue bifocals when she was told her eyesight was failing.

In technical terms, she now has age-related presbyopia, a condition 81 per cent of people suffer from after the age of 45.

Healthy young eyes have a wide range of focus, from long distance to a few centimetres, but with age, the lens of the eye bulges and loses flexibility, leading to an inability to focus close up.

Isabel, a Glasgow receptionist, already wears contact lenses for short-sightedness - the inability to focus on objects at a distance.

She was faced with a choice of wearing reading glasses on top of the contacts or trying the new bifocal contact lenses.

She says: "I wouldn't be able to wear glasses for badminton, but the bifocal contact lenses lets me see the shuttlecock coming.

"Carrying glasses on a hillwalk would be cumbersome and a nuisance. They get steamed up when it rains and the rain hitting the specs can be really irritating.

"I can actually wear these contacts longer than the ones I used to wear, so I am really pleased."

For those who find wearing contact lenses unbearable, then it is possible to buy special goggles with sight correction built into them.

There are a few sports which involve running around, where goggles are more practical than glasses because they can be strapped to the top of the head when they're not needed for close-up work.

The other alternative is to try laser treatment.

There are two main procedures - photorefractive keratectomy, better known as PRK and laser in situ keratomileusis, known as Lasik. PRK has been available in Britain since 1991 and uses a computer-controlled ultraviolet excimer laser to alter the shape of the cornea.

The more complex Lasik treatment, sometimes known as "flap and zap", is a relatively recent innovation.

As with PRK, the excimer laser is used to remove microscopic amounts of tissue, not on the surface of the eye, but in the deeper layers.

Using an automated instrument, called a microkeratome, a small incision is made and a thin layer of cornea is lifted to create a flap.

A small, pre-calculated amount of tissue is removed, then the flap is replaced and the cornea assumes its new shape.

It sounds complicated, but it takes no more than 30 minutes and only anaesthetic eye drops are required.

Keep-fit enthusiast Diane McConnell, of Kilmarnock, had laser treatment on her eyes five years ago. Now 29, her eyesight started to deteriorate when she was 18 and became so bad that she had to wear spectacles all the time.

She says: "I even had to wear them at aerobics and jumping about with glasses on was not much fun.

"Sometimes I would be going one way and the class would be going another."

She tried contact lenses, but the ordinary ones irritated her eyes so badly, she had to wear disposables.

Diane recalls: "That was costing me around pounds 50 a month, so I felt the laser operation would save me money in the long run."

Five years ago, the laser treatment was less common and Diane did not really know what to expect, but she says: "It was absolutely brilliant.

"Going to the dentist is a lot more painful. I had a bit of haemorrhaging when the first eye was done. It was not sore - although it looked horrible. I also had a slight haze for a little while, but nothing too bad.

"After the first eye was done, I did not have to wear contact lenses or glasses again. It was really amazing, as if a cloud had been taken off my eye."

The operation on the first eye restores around 80 per cent of vision and the second eye, which is operated on around nine months later with PRK, gives more sharpness.

However, at Black and Lizars' sports clinic, it is recommended that sportsmen and women try contact lenses before laser surgery.

It costs pounds 495 per eye for PRK laser surgery and pounds 795 per eye for Lasik. The new Acuvue bifocals cost between pounds 270 and pounds 400 per year depending on your optician. For details of where they are fitted, telephone 0800-200-256.

AT A GLANCE:

THE BEST CHOICE TO KEEP YOUR SPORT IN VIEW THIS special chart, drawn up with help from Dr Caroline MacEwen, consultant opthalmologist at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee and author of Sports Vision, lets you see the best aids for your sport.

SQUASH, TENNIS, BADMINTON: In these sports, it is important to protect the eyes as well as gain the best possible vision. Goggles with a prescription lens are the best option. These will protect your eyes as well as give you the best vision possible. Contact lenses are acceptable as long as goggles with the British safety standard kite mark are worn as well. Contact lenses, or glasses without goggles, are dangerous because if they are broken they may cut your eye.

SHOOTING, ARCHERY: No protection is needed but accurate vision is necessary for success. Only glasses will provide that. Nothing else will give the necessary accuracy. With contact lenses, there is always a blur and laser is not suitable for maximum vision, although it can be used satisfactorily for other sports.

RUGBY, FOOTBALL: Spectacles are an obvious hindrance and a danger. Hard contact lenses are also dangerous, because they are likely to break. Here, soft contact lenses are the best option. Laser treatment is possible here and for most sports other than shooting or archery.

HOCKEY, SHINTY: In these sports, protection is advised because of the danger from sticks and the hard ball. A soft contact lens is not as good an option as prescription goggles.

SWIMMING: Even swimmers with good eyesight should wear goggles to protect the eyes from chlorine. Short-sighted people should consider wearing prescription goggles.

AEROBICS: Glasses are difficult to keep in place, but contact lenses or laser treatment will boost your vision - and your enjoyment.

SKIING, ORIENTEERING, CLIMBING, HILL-WALKING: The priority is protection from ultra violet rays, which can damage the eyes. Either wear contact lenses which have in-built ultra violet protection or wear anti-UVR goggles or sunglasses on top. Skiers in particular should be careful to wear protection or they may end up with snow blindness.

GOLF: The problem here is that you have to be able to see into long-distance, middle distance and near at hand when you mark the golf card. Spectacles are the best option or the new bifocal contact lenses if you are short-sighted.

BOXING, WRESTLING: Naturally good eyesight is essential here. Visual aids cannot be worn with any degree of safety, so most clubs insist on good eyesight before people can participate.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 11, 2001
Words:1728
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