From as far back as many of us can remember, we are told that carrots improve our eyesight. However, as we grow up, we start to question whether this is true. Dr Tariq Al-Rawashdeh, a consultant ophthalmologist and vitreo-retinal surgeon at Samaya, clears this question up once and for all, alongside other common puzzles and misunderstandings regarding our eyes.
In our practice we see a lot of confusion, especially regarding glasses. One problem we see frequently is parents coming in and complaining that their child is blinking a lot. After a check-up we find it is because of dryness. This is directly related to something new that has appeared in our lives since 2010 – technology in the form of smartphones, iPads, and tablets. These kids don’t need glasses. They need to get rid of their devices. Dryness has always been an age-related issue, on the skin, mouth, throat, nose, until today. Now we also see it in children’s eyes.
Another problem is air-conditioning, which increases the speed of air inside a room. In a normal atmosphere, the air inside a room moves naturally. Let me give you an example. When you hang a wet shirt out and you place a fan in the same room, because the fan speeds up the air movement in the room the shirt becomes dry quickly. So if I am a child sitting in a room with air-conditioning, and the speed of the air is too high, and I’m focused on something so not blinking as much – this will cause severe dryness to my eyes.
Dryness exposes the eye to infections. The cells from the immune system in the tear itself are protecting the eye from infections. When the eye is dry, and tears are not there to protect, the eye can easily catch an infection, like bacteria conjunctivitis.
When we focus on any object, we try to reduce our blinking. In normal life, we blink around 15-20 times a minute. In a recent study, people who work with computers and devices frequently were monitored. The researchers discovered that the amount of blinking reduced from 15 and 16 times per minute, to 3 times per minute.
And as regards raw carrots, sorry, but the old tale about them improving eyesight is not strictly true. Yes, Vitamin A is the main food for the retina and carrots are the best source for this amongst fruit and vegetables, but in their raw form they do little good.
The majority of parents give children raw carrots to eat as snacks, and they are not going to get anything from them. It is better to eat carrots with food, because all foods have some fat inside them. When they eat it with food, they will receive a high concentration of Vitamin A. If you eat carrots without cooking them in oil, your body will not absorb the Vitamin A. It is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it has to be cooked in oil or the body will not recognise it.
The oil is not bad for children for two reasons: to cook the carrot, only a small amount of oil is used, plus most youngsters do not suffer from high cholesterol or other oil-related issues. Cooked carrot is therefore much more beneficial and healthy for kids than non-cooked carrot.
Dr Tariq Al-Rawashdeh is a Consultant Ophthalmology and Vitreoretinal Surgeon at Samaya Specialized Center in Abu Dhabi, having received his license from the European Board, and German Board (Facharzt). He has worked in gulf countries for the last seven years.