It may be no coincidence that October’s birthstone is the opal. October is Eye Injury and Blindness Awareness Month, and in the Middle Ages, the opal, called the “eye stone,” was believed to be vital to good eyesight. Australia is a principal source for opals, and according to opalsdownunder.com.au, the word opal comes from the Roman “opalus” and was thought to heal the blind. In Elizabethan England, the stones were called “ophals,” from the word “ophthalmos,” referring to the human eye.
The perceived power of opals had a dark side, however. Medieval Europeans believed that because the stones resembled the eyes of animals thought to be evil, such as cats, the term “evil eye” became associated with opals. The eye stone shared blame for the Black Plague and many other forms of misfortune. That all changed in the 20th century, however, when an appreciation for the stone’s beauty and stories of it bringing good fortune became popular.
While a gemstone can’t protect vision, some real and practical actions can. According to Prevent Blindness America, 50,000 people lose their sight each year, but half of those cases could be prevented. They note some preventable causes of blindness as glaucoma—half of the 2 to 3 million people who have glaucoma don’t know it. One in every 20 preschool children has an eye problem that if left uncorrected, can lead to permanent vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of new cases of blindness. Nearly 2,000 potentially blinding workplace eye injuries happen each day. The use of occupation-specific safety eyewear will certainly reduce eye injuries, but that isn’t all there is when it comes to eye safety. We see from the statistics that early eye disease detection and treatment are key to preserving sight for approximately 25,000 people each year.
Opals aside, many people continue to believe other myths about achieving good vision. A popular myth is that wearing glasses makes you dependent on them. Others include that vision loss with aging is inevitable; cataracts must be “ripe” before they can be removed; and eye exercises instead of glasses will improve vision. It’s our responsibility to be myth busters and put the facts out there. Promote regular eye exams, new technology and your practice through social media, vision screenings and at health fairs and community events. An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of eye stones.
• Linda Conlin
Pro to Pro Managing Editor