The actress and blogger shares how her diagnosis served as a wake-up call about the importance of prioritizing eye health.
Actress and lifestyle blogger Jamie Chung is all about perfecting her morning routine to start the day feeling her best, inside and out. "My number-one priority in the mornings is to take care of my skin, body, and mind," she tells Shape, explaining that her daily skin-care, exercise, and meditation routines are what help her make the most of her busy days and hectic schedules.
Among her top priorities is eye care, but this wasn't always the case. She began making it a priority two years ago when she was diagnosed with pinguecula, which served as a huge wake-up call.
"Pinguecula, also known as 'Surfer's Eye,' is a yellowish and raised thickening of the membrane on the white part of the eye, right at the edge of the cornea," says Randy McLaughlin, O.D., from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "It's a direct result of excessive UV ray exposure that breaks down the collagen in that area and usually affects people who live close to the equator where it's generally sunny."
Chung, who grew up in California, first realized something was wrong with her eyes after coming home from a hiking trip. "One summer I was hiking a bunch and came home and realized these raised yellow spots on the whites of my eye," she said. "At first I thought it was jaundice, but after seeing my eye doctor, I was told it was pinguecula."
Thankfully, her symptoms weren't severe and went away after a few weeks, but this scare made her realize how important it is to make a conscious effort to take care of your eyes. "You know you go to the dentist once a year, you go to your annual physical and visit your gyno, but I'm in my 30s, and one of the first things to go is your eyes, and they're kind of the last things I thought about before I got diagnosed," she says. (Related: People Are Sharing Pictures of Their Eyes On Instagram for a Very Powerful Reason)
Dr. McLaughlin explained that age can be a contributing factor when developing pinguecula simply because you've been exposed to harmful UV rays for longer. The good news? Treatment for the condition is fairly easy. "The growth is a nuisance, but not a sight-threatening thing," he says. "Usually, artificial tears are what you need to keep it at bay. If it's a little aggressive, doctors prescribe nonsteroidal drops, and if the inflammation is extreme, mild steroidal drops will take care of it."
As with most health issues, avoiding pinguecula comes down to prevention. "You've got to protect your body if you want to live a healthy life, and obviously, your eyes are one of the most precious senses," says Dr. McLaughlin. "Wear sunglasses with lenses that protect from ultraviolet light and use artificial tears if your eyes feel excessively dry."
Chung says she's been adhering to that advice ever since she was diagnosed with pinguecula, even partnering with Transitions lenses to help raise awareness for eye safety and encourage people to wear protective eyewear. "The long-term effects UV rays can have on your eyes are horrible and people need to educate themselves about that," she says. "Little things go a long way, so on top of just wearing proper lenses, put on a hat when it's sunny out, take a break from your smartphones and computers, and don't rub your eyes." (Related: Do You Have Digital Eye Strain or Computer Vision Syndrome?)
Finally and perhaps most importantly, even if you've been blessed with 20/20 vision, you should still pay your eye specialist a visit. Your eye exam can say a lot about your health, and it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your sight.