May is Healthy Vision Month. Taking care of your eyes is just as important as maintaining a healthy diet, regularly visiting the dentist, and getting your annual physical. Though small, your eyes are the body’s most highly developed sensory organ and are responsible for the majority of how we perceive the world.
It’s normal for your eyes to deteriorate as you grow older, but there are ways to keep your eyes healthy as you age.
Get an Eye Exam
Getting an eye exam is the easiest way to keep your eyes healthy. Even if you don’t think you have vision problems, getting a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to know for sure.
When Should I Get an Eye Exam?
There’s no agreed-upon standard for how often you need an eye exam. But according to the Mayo Clinic, the frequency of visits depends largely on your age, health, and risk of eye disease.
Vision changes more frequently during childhood and is extremely important in maintaining educational attainment. Poor vision can cause difficulty reading and focusing, as well as trouble building motor coordination skills. Therefore, children should receive an eye exam every one to two years unless otherwise directed by their physician.
For adults, eye exams should occur more frequently as you age. If you wear contacts or glasses, have a greater risk of developing an eye disease, or take medications with serious eye side effects, consult your doctor regarding exam frequency.
What Happens During an Eye Exam?
During your eye exam, your doctor will check for common vision problems, such as near- or farsightedness to help you determine whether you need glasses or contacts. Then your doctor will use special eye drops to dilate (or widen) your pupils. This painless procedure allows your doctor to examine the inner workings of your eyes for any diseases or anomalies, such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
Eye exams not only provide valuable information on your eyes, but your doctor can also detect a number of health conditions unrelated to eyesight:
Diabetes occurs when your blood sugar is too high. Excess sugar can damage blood vessels in your retina, the part of your eye responsible for sending visual signals to your brain, causing hemorrhage or fluid leakage.
2. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure damages and weakens arteries throughout the body. As a result of this damage, the blood vessels in your eyes may exhibit kinks or tears.
3. High Cholesterol
One indicator of high cholesterol is a bluish-grey ring, called arcus senilis, that forms around the cornea.
A buildup of plaques in the small arteries of the eye can also indicate high cholesterol.
4. Autoimmune Diseases
Eye symptoms such as dry or red eyes, itchy eyes, light sensitivity, and visual changes can be indicators of autoimmune disorders like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, and Graves’ disease.
Eye irregularities can reveal many different types of cancer. For example, brain tumors can be detected based on vision changes, and retinal lesions and bleeding can be common symptoms of leukemia.
Protect Your Eyes
Your eyes are a sensitive organ and can easily be harmed by the environment. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to protect your eyes from damage:
1. Wear Sunglasses
Wearing sunglasses protects your eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Too much UV exposure can lead to conditions such as macular degeneration, eye cancer, and a sunburn-like injury known as photokeratitis. Be sure to wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB rays.
2. Wear Protective Eyewear
If your job involves working with chemicals, particles, flying objects or dust, be sure to wear the appropriate safety glasses or goggles.
Some sports require specific protective eyewear, such as lacrosse, baseball, and hockey. If you play a sport requiring protective eyewear, be sure it fits properly and is replaced when necessary.
3. Keep Your Hands Clean
Touching your eyes significantly increases your chances of infection. Surprisingly, we touch our faces roughly 16 times per hour. Keep your hands clean to avoid spreading germs to your eyes. This is particularly true if you wear contacts. Make sure you wash your hands before putting in or take your contacts out.
4. Splurge on Quality Eye Makeup
If you wear eye makeup, consider splurging on high-quality products.
The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires makeup manufacturers to follow certain safety provisions and labeling requirements. However, cosmetics do not have to be approved by the FDA before hitting the market. Educate yourself by researching which chemicals to avoid when purchasing makeup. Avoid buying generic brands and follow the FDA’s general safety tips to keep your eyes safe.
5. Give Your Eyes a Break
Looking at a screen for extended periods of time can tire out your eyes. Every 20 minutes, rest your eyes by looking away from your digital screen at something 20 feet away. Keep looking away for 20 seconds. You can also lower the lighting on your screen. Don’t forget to blink often!
Keeping physically active, eating right, and making healthy choices lowers your risk for diseases that can lead to eye or vision problems. Luckily, you are probably already practicing these healthy behaviors:
1. Eat Right
The same foods that keep your heart healthy also keep your eyes in good condition. Diets high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains keep your arteries strong.
If your mom ever told you to eat your carrots to keep your eyes healthy – she was right. Vitamin A keeps your retinas working properly, and orange fruits and vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and apricots provide high concentrations of Vitamin A.
Antioxidants, such as Vitamin C, protect the body from free radical damage and can prevent or delay certain eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, and strawberries are good sources of Vitamin C.
Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids contain essential nutrients that are important for several key bodily functions. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3, is a major structural component of the retina. Fatty fish, like mackerel, salmon, and seabass are excellent sources of DHA.
2. Get Exercise
Regular exercise can help prevent vision problems associated with diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
3. Quit Smoking
Smoking is just as bad for your eyes as it is for your lungs. Smokers are twice as likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and three times more likely to develop cataracts compared to non-smokers.
Quitting smoking not only lowers your risk for AMD but can also slow the progression if you already have the disease.
Final Thoughts from USHEALTH Group
Healthy eyes are key to your overall health and wellbeing. Regularly visiting an eye doctor keeps your vision in-check and can help ward off other health problems. Keep your eyes healthy by maintaining a good diet, regularly exercising, and using proper protective wear and techniques.