Terrie's Job Tips -- Staying Healthy, Part One – Temporary Astigmatism

There have been three key things that document the passage of time that I thought I’d share with you on: failing eyesight, dental work, and staying fit. The chances are that you are not 50 yet, since most of us come to Japan when we’re young and footloose, so I’ll try to keep things generic.

Also, I’ll add the usual disclaimer that I am not medically qualified, and these comments are my own. If you’re not feeling well, Japanese medical practitioners are generally quite good technically and with your health insurance up-to-date, visiting one is simple and cheap. Look around and you’ll find many who speak English and other languages as well.

Let’s start with eye health. As a foreigner in Tokyo, I find myself and my friends spending much more time reading, writing, and being on the internet than I possibly would be back home. One reason for this is the fact that a lot of jobs here for foreigners involve interfacing between Japan and one’s own native country – for trade, education, engineering, finance, etc. This typically means lots of documents and emails. A second reason is that living in Japan removes you from so many other forms of social interaction that you would otherwise take up your free time. There is no dropping around to see your parents, no evening courses, and no old school friends calling you at short notice asking you to catch up.

Thus for quality of life and to stay effective at work, you need to have healthy eyes. Naturally, there are many things medically that can go wrong with your eyes, but several problems that I’ve witnessed many people go through in Tokyo and thus worth addressing are: temporary astigmatism, conjunctivitis, corneal damage or infection, and in my case, presbyopia (age-related long-sightedness).

Temporary astigmatism is not something I’d heard about before coming to Japan. But for hard-working Japanese, it’s not so uncommon, especially in younger people. It is caused by intensive overuse of the eyes and I first found out about it after pulling a 20-hour-a-day, 3-day editing job (it was an urgent project) for a translation company. After finishing that job, I walked to the station to deliver the work, and noticed that everything looked blurred. I remember panicking a bit and wondering whether I had damaged my eyes permanently.

Luckily I hadn’t and my focus came right after a few days. As you may know, regular astigmatism is where either your eye lens or cornea is causing a focusing error and thus causing asymmetric blur. This manifests itself as some directions of an object being blurred or more out of focus than others, and should not be confused with general myopia (short-sightedness) where everything is blurred. For regular astigmatism, you need glasses, lenses, or laser refractive corneal surgery (PRK and Lasik).

With temporary astigmatism, the blurring changes day by day, according to the intensity of your work schedule. As I found out, the remedy is NOT glasses, but instead to simply make sure that you give your eyes sufficient rest. I only found this out after going to see an optometrist who was going to prescribe glasses for my eyes per the state they were in that day, but who had a hunch that it may not be a permanent condition. I’m glad he was experienced, because getting glasses when you don’t need them is obviously not a good thing.

Since that time, I try to make sure that if I’ve been doing some intensive work, that I get plenty of sleep and non-reading related relaxation over the following few days. My personal therapy is jogging in the park, shopping, and meeting friends – all good things to do in the big city!