Self-care is becoming increasingly popular for hair, skin and overall body wellness, but many people forget their eyes deserve care too. Eye health is often an afterthought for most people except when their annual eye exam comes around. Even then, however, many people skip this essential doctor’s visit unless they think something is wrong.
In addition to attending the eye doctor every year for annual checkups, you can follow certain steps to protect your eyes and support their health.
Steps for Keeping Your Eyes Healthy
A routine for eye health should be an important part of your life to ensure your eyes stay well as you age. Having good habits can mitigate or prevent the potential development of harmful diseases that can lead to partial or full vision loss.
The following are some steps on how to take care of your eyes:
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating well is a staple of almost all healthy living habits — it’s the foundation for practically all health advice, as food fuels our bodies every day. Therefore, what we eat and drink naturally impacts our eye health. Primarily, getting enough water is one of the best ways to take care of your eyes daily. Tears are lubrication for your eyes, and they help keep your eyes moist and remove bacteria and other particles. Adequate water intake is also essential to maintaining healthy tear production.
According to the American Optometric Association, these antioxidants are the best for your eyes:
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: Found in colorful foods like leafy greens, corn, peas and tangerines, these nutrients can help prevent chronic eye diseases and cataracts.
- Vitamin C: In addition to being an immune booster, Vitamin C helps prevent cataracts and may even help fight macular degeneration. Citrus fruits like grapefruit and oranges are great sources of Vitamin C.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E can help fight harmful molecules called free radicals, which attack healthy tissues. Sweet potatoes and nuts are great sources of Vitamin E.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Already a source of protection for the cardiovascular system, omega-3 fatty acids are also great for eye health. You can eat tuna, salmon or other coldwater fish to get your dosage or take omega-3 pills as an eye health supplement.
- Zinc: Zinc acts as a transporter to bring essential vitamins from the liver to the retina. You can find zinc in red meats, shellfish and nuts or seeds.
2. Stop Smoking
Smoking has been proven to lead to some serious health consequences, such as cancer, heart disease and lung disease. But did you know it also impacts your eye health? Studies have shown that smoking can contribute to a condition called Dry Eye Syndrome, which means the tear ducts cannot produce enough tears to properly lubricate the eyes. In addition to discomfort, this syndrome can lead to blurry vision and light sensitivity, which can seriously impact activities like driving.
Furthermore, smoking can lead to much more harmful consequences for your eyes. Research has found a link between smoking and harmful conditions such as:
- Age-related macular degeneration.
- Vision loss.
- Diabetic retinopathy.
One way to protect your eye health is to quit smoking, but many people struggle with quitting for a long time. However, even if you’ve tried to quit unsuccessfully in the past, the more times you try increases the likelihood of success.
3. Wear UV Protective Sunglasses
The sun’s UV rays are powerful and can impact our skin and eyes even on cloudy days. Wearing proper eye protection when you spend time outdoors can protect your eyes from sun damage, which can cause vision loss and other conditions. When looking for sunglasses, choose options with 99%-100% UVA and UVB protective coatings. These glasses should block almost all UV rays from the sun.
Getting too much exposure to the sun can cause short-term issues like sunburn to your cornea, which results in pain and sensitivity to light. Long-term exposure can cause a condition called solar retinopathy, which means there is extensive damage to your retinal tissue. Because the retina doesn’t feel pain, many people won’t know they have sun-related eye damage until a few days or weeks later, when they experience a blur or spots in their vision.
4. Wear Safety Goggles
Safety goggles are an important protective element for many activities. Certain jobs, hobbies and sports require safety goggles to protect the eyes from harm. If you work in a lab setting, play certain sports or operate heavy machinery, you should wear safety goggles to prevent particles from getting in your eyes or equipment from harming your eyes.
While projectiles and other objects are a threat to your eye health, certain gasses and liquids can also cause eye irritation. If you are painting with liquid or especially spray paint, wear protective glasses to prevent fumes or droplets from getting in your eyes. Additionally, wear properly fitting goggles when swimming to keep your eyes free of chlorine or salt.
If you work with any crafts such as resin, or you’re in the beauty industry and deal with strong chemicals and fine particles, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from irritants.
5. Be Careful About Screen Time
More people are spending upward of 17 hours a day looking at different screens. From phones to televisions to laptops, the average person will spend most of their day looking at a screen of some sort. Be cognizant of your screen time and engage in practices that can help mitigate asthenopia, or eyestrain, and headaches.
If you are looking at a screen for an extended period, be sure to periodically look away and at your surroundings. A good rule of thumb is to focus your eyes on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Changing the perspective at which your eyes see can help reduce strain and prevent headaches.
Additionally, best practices to prevent digital eyestrain are to keep the screen an appropriate distance from your eyes and avoid glare on the screen as much as possible.
6. Avoid Touching Your Eyes
Not all eye diseases are congenital. Some come from environmental factors, such as conjunctivitis — or pinkeye as it’s more commonly known. The causes of pinkeye are often a bacterial or viral infection that irritates the conjunctiva or whites of your eyes. This disease is extremely contagious and is especially prevalent in younger children who may not have good hand-washing habits. However, anyone can get conjunctivitis.
The best thing to do to avoid eye infection or disease is to avoid touching your eyes altogether. If you suffer from dry, itchy eyes from allergies, thoroughly wash your hands before touching your eyes. Carrying around eye drops may also help prevent the issue altogether.
7. Get Comprehensive Eye Exams
The most important step you can take to prevent damage and maintain your eye health is to go to the eye doctor at least once a year. A doctor’s visit can help you prevent eyestrain by checking if your glasses or contacts prescription has changed over the year. If you continue using the wrong prescription, you could experience eyestrain and headaches.
Eye doctors also check for diseases like glaucoma, which often has no apparent symptoms, and can address any issues you may have, such as dry, itchy eyes, pain or soreness.
Eye Care Tips
Keeping in mind the important steps you can take every day to maintain your eye health, here are some more specific tips on how to care for the eyes at different stages of life.
Vision is an essential factor in how infants and toddlers interact with the world. Mothers can protect their children’s eye health by eating healthy foods during pregnancy, and parents can take additional steps to protect their child’s eye health, such as:
- Offering nutritious foods rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
- Providing eye health vitamins like omega-3 fatty acids.
- Dressing their kids with UV protective glasses when outdoors.
- Buying age-appropriate toys without sharp edges.
- Playing games that promote visual development.
Certain activities and games can help a child’s visual development:
- Birth to four months: Hold objects 8 to 10 inches from your child’s face and allow them to focus their eyes on the item. This practice will help stimulate visual cues and let children practice focusing their eyes on particular objects.
- Five to eight months: Small wooden blocks and other toys, in addition to floor play, can help babies at this age develop hand-eye coordination and depth perception.
- Nine to 12 months: Reading books and playing hide-and-seek games are great ways to stimulate the development of visual memory.
Furthermore, teaching children healthy practices when using tablets and screens will help prevent eyestrain and headaches. Natural light is also important for children’s eye development, so getting them off screens and outside is good for their eye health.
For older children and teenagers, regular eye exams are important to track any conditions or vision loss that might cause the need for glasses or contacts. Additionally, it’s important to encourage children to wear the proper eye protection during sports to avoid eye injuries.
Adults also need to maintain good eye health to avoid developing degenerative conditions later in life. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of nutrients and vitamins is an essential aspect of maintaining good eye health, as is wearing protective eye gear whenever going outside for prolonged periods. Doing so protects from UVA and UVB rays. Wear safety goggles whenever performing risky activities, such as handling hazardous items at the workplace and doing sports.
Diabetes can lead to a condition called diabetic retinopathy, which is the leading cause of blindness in adults ages 20 to 74. To avoid developing this condition, adults with diabetes should get comprehensive eye exams with dilation every year. Preventative care and early detection can significantly decrease a person’s risk of vision loss due to diabetes.
For Older Adults
Preventative care is one of the best ways to maintain eye health as you age. For older adults, habits like eating right, getting exercise, wearing protective sunglasses outside and always wearing the correct prescription eyeglasses can help maintain good eye health. Furthermore, ensure you have good lighting in your house to prevent eyestrain.
For some older adults who have certain health conditions that affect the eyes, macular degeneration or vision loss can be a scary symptom. While there is no cure for macular degeneration, some medicines and procedures can significantly impede the progression of the disease.
Older adults should still schedule annual eye exams, and your doctor’s visit should include testing for age-related macular degeneration.
For Contacts Wearers
If you wear contacts, you need to have a special regimen to ensure your eyes remain healthy. Contacts are a convenient and comfortable option for many, but they require upkeep and responsibility, so they aren’t the best choice for young children. To maintain proper eye health while wearing contacts, follow these essential rules:
- Wash your hands before handling your contacts or touching your eyes.
- Be gentle with your eyes as you insert and remove your contacts.
- Never sleep in your contacts.
- Always change your contacts at the appropriate time — generally daily, bi-weekly or monthly.
Improper storage or handling of your contacts can lead to health conditions like corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis and other infections. Furthermore, particles in the contact can lead to scratches on the eye that can become irritated when rubbed.
The Importance of Regular Eye Tests
Regular eye tests are essential for people of all ages to prevent or track the onset of certain conditions that could impact your vision. They also provide an important touchpoint to gauge a person’s relative eye health over the years. Many people suffer from eyestrain and headaches only to discover the solution to their problems is that they need glasses.
While most people discover they need glasses around the ages of six to 12, some adults can develop the need for full-time or reading glasses as they age. Attending your yearly eye test can help ensure you’re using the right prescription and type of glasses lens or contact lens.
Since diseases like glaucoma don’t have noticeable symptoms, getting your eyes checked every year is vital to catching and diagnosing problems early. You should also go to the eye doctor should you experience any sudden changes or abnormalities in your vision, such as spots, blurred vision or chronic dry eyes.
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