Preventing eye disease is so important—often, if you wait until you notice a problem, it can be too late. Luckily, there are plenty of simple things you can do each day to keep your sight in tip-top shape. Here, 12 easy ways to be proactive about your eye health.
1. Get Regular Eye Exams
Many people who care about their eyesight aren’t always that good about getting to the doctor. A survey by the American Optometric Association (AOA) found that 85 percent of people valued their sight as their most prized sense, but less than half of that group had had an eye exam in the past two or three years. Adults, especially those over 40, should have yearly eye exams, particularly to prevent age-related ocular conditions including macular degeneration (the part of the retina that processes light deteriorates), cataracts (the lens of your eye becomes cloudy) and glaucoma (pressure in the eye damages t
the optic nerve). Children should have their first eye exam between the ages of 6 and 12 months.
2. Give Your Eye Doctor Your Health History
Be sure your optometrist or ophthalmologist knows about what’s medically relevant. Patients often don’t realize that there’s a connection between illnesses in the body and eye issues. Hypertension, blood pressure and diabetes can all be detected by looking in the back of the eye. Also mention your hobbies to your doctor—knowing what sports or leisure activities you like to do in your free time makes it easier for him or her to make appropriate recommendations for correcting vision and keeping your eyes healthy.
3. Control the Air Quality in Your Home or Office
In the winter, the heating systems in homes and offices create dry air. Consider using a portable humidifier to keep the air moist, which will help prevent eye irritation caused by dryness. If you have a pet, keeping their hair off areas where you sit or lie down, like couches and chairs, is important as well. Along with shedding dander, pets can also track in other irritants from outside that can cause inflammation in the eyes.
4. Stock Your Home Medical Kit with Saline Solution
When pouring chemicals or using power tools, you should always wear safety goggles. But that level of protection isn’t necessary around the house, so if you accidentally splash soap or cleansers in your eye, the first thing you should do is rinse thoroughly with saline for 10 to 15 minutes. That may seem like a long time, but rinsing is the best way to clear the eyes. If you still experience irritation after that, visit your eye doctor.
5. Replace Your Contact Lens Case Every One to Two Months
Replace your case often and keep it in a clean, dry place. After you put in your contacts, be sure that the case is empty of all used solution: Dump it out, then rinse with solution and dry the case before you store your lenses in it again. To avoid the risk of infection, always wash your hands thoroughly and dry with a lint-free towel before putting in or taking out your contact lenses. Make sure to disinfect contact lenses as instructed and replace them as appropriate.
6. Drink Caffeine—but Not Too Much
Good news for coffee and tea drinkers: Two servings of a caffeinated beverage daily are good for protecting against dry eyes (this helps us produce tears, which keep the eyes moist). But keep in mind that more than two servings can deplete your tear film and dry out your eyes, which can contribute to irritation. It’s much better to drink water, at least 8 glasses per day to stay hydrated.
7. Give Your Eyes a Break from the Computer Screen
If you work in front of a computer screen all day, use the 20-20-20 rule to let your eyes rest: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away or more for at least 20 seconds. It helps break the eyes’ constant strain of focusing from doing close work, like reading or looking at a computer monitor. And always be sure that you’re a comfortable arm’s distance away from what you’re looking at or reading. Another reason to give your eyes a break: when we concentrate, whether it’s on reading or on the computer, we blink about half as many times as we do when we aren’t concentrating. Blinking is how we bring fresh tears to the corneal surface, which helps your eyes stay moist and free of irritants. So the more we concentrate, the drier our eyes become.
8. Eat Leafy Greens, Dark Berries and Cold-Water Fish
Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts, as well as dark berries, like blueberries and blackberries, are rich in lutein, a type of carotenoid that protects against macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in people over 60. Foods rich in omega-3s, like walnuts and fresh cold-water fish, have been found to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels of the eye.
9. Protect Your Eyes as You Would Protect Your Skin
Every time you lather on sunscreen, think about shielding your eyes from the sun as well. A lifetime of UV light exposure can contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration, so always wear sunglasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. It’s crucial to protect your children’s eyes as well.
10. Travel Smart
Airplane air quality tends to be drier and more irritating to the eye, especially if you’re a contact lens wearer. Using rewetting or lubricating drops in your eyes before boarding (keep the bottle handy during the flight too) is a smart way to prevent irritation caused by dry eyes, or just wear your eyeglasses during the flight. Bring along an extra pair of lenses and your glasses, just in case. And while you’re on vacation, it’s never a good idea to expose contact lenses to pool or hot tub water (or any type of water), which is full of irritating chemicals and bacteria that can cause infections.
11. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes and other systemic conditions, which can lead to vision loss, such as diabetic eye disease or glaucoma. If you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, talk to your doctor.
12. Quit Smoking or Never Start
Smoking is as bad for your eyes as it is for the rest of your body. Research has linked smoking to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataract, and optic nerve damage, all of which can lead to blindness.