How World War 2 Changed the Way We Talk About Our Eyes

The Second World War affected most of the developed world and, in terms of politics and such, it's effects will stand for the rest of our history. But, did you know that WWII has actually had changed the way that we talk about and even treat our eyes today? Well we here are a couple of little history lesson...

History Lesson #1:

We've all heard that carrots are good for our eyes. We've written about it and made a video on the topic to set the record straight. Yes, carrots are good for our retinal health because they are high in vitamin A. However, they cannot and do not improve our vision. But, where did one of the most widespread myths about our eyes even begin? Well, WWII of course...

During the war, in particular during German bombings of London, the British military successfully incorporated the use of radar to help counteract the Luftwaffe (German air force). The Brits were suddenly able to shoot down German bombers before they were able to reach their targets, which of course raised many eyebrows. When the newspapers began enquiring as to this new found success, the government decided, rather than give away their secret weapon, they would spin a little fiction and spread some propaganda.

The British military told everyone that their gunners were able to spot German planes in the night sky with deadly accuracy because they had been eating a lot of carrots! The word spread like wildfire and before you know it, everyone and their mother was eating carrots for dinner. There is even evidence that the Germans began encouraging their troops to eat more!

History Lesson #2:

During the same period, many RAF (Royal Air Force) pilots were visiting hospitals to see the ophthalmologist because they would get small shards of plastic from the cockpit canopies in their eyes during combat. One ophthalmologist at the time, Dr. Harold Ridley, realized that the plastic from the canopy was not causing any type of rejection or reaction in the eye - it was inert. This was a revolutionary discovery in the field as the eyes are very sensitive to any foreign materials penetrating the surface or residing within the eyeball. This discovery lead to the very first implantable lens to replace cataracts, a procedure that is still used to this day!

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our eyes are connected to our... everything.

I've written in the past about what I called the "eye-heart connection" and I've also touched on how a disease such as diabetes can effect our eyes. But very recently, a friend who has been battling through some tough health issues asked me to highlight again the importance of how intricately our organs are linked to one another.

At the end of every eye exam, I spend some time going through the following image with my patients...

Optomap retinal scan image of a healthy retina

Optomap retinal scan image of a healthy retina

This picture shows us the inside surface of an eye, which we call the retina. The yellow circle, as labelled, is the optic nerve. This nerve is less a part of the eye and more a part of the brain that "plugs" into the eye. It is where we look for glaucoma, which is specifically an eye-related condition. But it is also where many cases of multiple sclerosis are first diagnosed.

You've probably guessed what all those red lines are that stretch out beautifully like branches on a tree. They are the veins and arteries that supply blood to the retina (which happens to have some of the highest oxygen demands of any tissue in the body).

But, from whence do these meandering conduits of plasma and hemoglobin arise? (pardon the brief Shakespearean fit).

The retinal vasculature actually stems directly from the blood vessels in our brain, which come directly from the heart! So it wouldn't be surprising to learn that common systemic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol can all show up in some form in the retina. In fact, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in Canada! 

Optomap retinal scan of a retina with diabetic retinopathy

Optomap retinal scan of a retina with diabetic retinopathy

Heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, autoimmune disorders (such as rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, crohn's, psoriasis, lupus, etc), not to mention many of medications that are used to treat these conditions can all effect our eyes in one way or another.

And, in fact, it is not unusual for a systemic condition to have its primary presentation in the eyes. I have personally seen a variety of patients who were consequently diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune disorders due to the presentation of these diseases during ocular examination. 

They say "the eyes are the windows to your soul".

They are certainly the windows to your health.

Get well soon RS.

How Trevor Linden Sold Out: The Prequel

Originally written and posted in January 2011, soon after its predecessor, "How Trevor Linden Sold Out" post. Once again, the writing has been left in its original form, so some facts will be outdated... But the passion will not!

OK, OK, I get it... People in Vancouver loooooove Trevor Linden. I know, I'm from here. So I expected a few people to be a little ticked off with me for recently writing a blog titled "How Trevor Linden Sold Out".

But, like any great story, there is always a pre-story; the prequel that provides you with greater insight into the original saga and how things came to be. Batman had Batman Begins. James Bond had Casino Royale. And Star Wars had (however unfortunately) Episodes 1, 2, and 3. This, my friends, is the Hobbit to my Lord of the Rings.

It all started in 2007. A company named clearly contacts (aka coastal contacts) that sells contact lenses online, had a lawsuit filed against them in BC Supreme Court because they were breaking the law by not requiring their customers to present valid prescriptions before ordering contacts. The law in all Canadian provinces and US states is that all patients must have a valid prescription and the online company must confirm it with the eye care professional who provides it.

This rule is in place to help prevent the misuse and incorrect fitting of contact lenses which can lead to serious, potentially vision threatening complications.

In 2009, the courts made a decision. clearly contacts must start abiding by the law OR have it changed. They decided to pursue the latter.


In 2010, Health Minister Kevin Falcon created new legislation that allowed online sales without the requirement of a prescription from an eye care professional. I can hear the gasps... He did what?? He changed the rules, with no regard for public health, to suit the needs of one corporation.

Apparently, Health Minister Falcon believed that buying contacts and glasses for cheaper was in the public's best interest, but having regular eye health examinations was not. Are these the types of decisions a HEALTH minister is supposed to be making?

MLA Adrian Dix put it well when he said "Health Minister Kevin Falcon will lower eye care standards to satisfy the commercial interests of one company, ignoring the open opposition from the Canadian National Institute of the Blind, physicians, and several health professional bodies..."

How is it possible that British Columbia is the only place in North America that is satisfied with these third world standards of health care? We often refer to American health care as an example of a flawed system, one that does not promote wellness and disease prevention. But now Americans (and other Canadians) are looking at us and wondering how or why we would possibly allow our standards to be lowered in such a way. The answer, my friends, is money.

That last point to resonates quite loudly in recent news articles which shed light on some large endorsements that the "honorable" Kevin Flacon has been receiving from a certain online company. *Cough* clearly contacts *Cough*

By the way, this person is planning on becoming the next Premier of British Columbia.

So, What About Trevor Linden?

Our captain joined clearly contacts as their spokesperson in 2010. Please refer to the original conversation in "How Trevor Linden Sold Out" for more information.

Someone recently said to me "...that's what celebrities and athletes do. Companies give them money to promote their product, and they do it... what's the big deal?"

Is that not the definition of selling out? Doing something ethically questionable for money. Especially when the very thing you are promoting is ultimately causing a decline in the overall well being and quality of care in the same community that has raised you and embraced you as its hero and idol.



How Trevor Linden Sold Out

This was originally written and posted in December 2010. As with all of the older posts, I've decided to leave this one in its (somewhat naive, but well-intentioned) original condition. The follow up to this was called "How Trevor Linden Sold Out: The Prequel". (Yes, I like movies)

Before I begin, I would like to say that as most kids growing up in Vancouver through the 1990's, I considered Trevor Linden to be an idol. A great hockey player and role model. As an adult, and more specifically as an eye care professional, my opinions have evolved.

As usual, I'll try to present my information as fact and do my best to remain impartial. But, I can't make any promises ;)

Many of you have probably seen our good friend Trevor on TV, or on the many obnoxious billboards around Vancouver, advertising for clearly contacts. Smiling with his spectacles on while promoting glasses and contact lenses for cheaper prices. "Glass, plastic, and two tiny little screws..." says Mr. Linden. Is that so?

Allow me to present the following points in a bulleted format.

  • First, I would like to challenge the notion that glasses are simply glass, plastic, and screws. For those people for whom glasses are a daily necessity, their presence cannot be so cheaply simplified and their importance so easily ignored. Glasses change people's lives. When Johnny Nash sang "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone...", what he was really saying was "I can see clearly now, I have my glasses on". True story. Glasses are a patient's windows into the world. They are a reflection of a person's personality and style. Try to fit that into $38, Trevor.
  • Second, my boy Trev had laser surgery a few years back so he's probably forgotten about the importance of specs. We'll see where he shops once he starts needing reading glasses.
  • Third, quality and service (or lack there of) cannot be overlooked. What happens when the arm falls off your glasses? Or you need to have the frames adjusted? Will you take them to the Linden residence?

Buying Contact Lenses Online:

A contact lens can be considered a medical device. A lens is essentially a prosthesis. A piece of precisely designed silicone and plastic placed on the surface of the eye for a medical purpose.

If poorly fit, over-worn, or misused contacts can cause inflammations, infections, and neovascularization of the eye which can potentially be vision threatening.

Would you consider it prudent for an amputee to go shopping for a prosthesis online without the consultation of his doctor? Or maybe a cardiac patient can look for good deals on heart valves while buying his new glasses? After all, they are both just pieces of plastic, right?

Trevor Linden, it's time to stop making a "spectacle" of yourself.