Many factors impact the health of the human eye. Even if disease is already present, following these recommendations can help your body be its healthiest and, in some cases, slow the progression of the disease.
Follow the suggestions on this checklist to maintain healthy vision throughout your life. See the information below on sunglasses for tips on eye protection for the whole family. Worn regularly, proper eyewear can provide significant protection.
- Have a comprehensive dilated eye exam regularly after age 40, yearly if your doctor recommends it. It may help you see better and could identify common eye diseases that have no warning signs.
- Know your family's eye health history. Many eye diseases have a hereditary component, so you may be at a higher-than-average risk of being affected.
- Eat right to protect your sight. Eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens, and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, and halibut.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight has been shown to contribute to four eye diseases, including macular degeneration and glaucoma.
- Exercise daily or as often as you can, especially aerobic exercises, to improve your immune system and blood pressure and your eye and brain health.
- Maintain a normal blood pressure of 120/80. Having cardiovascular disease has been linked to an increased risk for macular degeneration.
- Wear protective eyewear: sports or tasks at home or at work may lead to damage.
- Quit smoking or never start. Toxins found in cigarette smoke have been linked to an increased risk for developing a number of diseases, including macular degeneration.
- Give your eyes a rest. Reduce eyestrain by looking away from your monitor or other near work every 20 minutes, to a distance of 20 feet in front of you, for 20 seconds.
- Perform Amsler grid tests for macular degeneration at home. Download the grid at www.brightfocus.org/amsler.
- Take all medications, as prescribed. Have one pharmacy or doctor confirm that the drugs have no risks for interactions or interference from non-prescription drugs or herbal supplements.
- Stay informed about recent advances in research on preventive activities and treatments for macular degeneration and glaucoma.
- Don a wide-brimmed hat as often as possible when you are outdoors. In addition to lowering your risk of eye diseases, hats can help shield your face and neck, where skin carcinomas can form. (Don’t forget your sunblock!)
Protecting Your Vision in the Sun
All people—and especially people who already have eye problems—should protect their eyes from the ultraviolet (UV) light in sunshine. UV light is what causes sunburn; it is also known to contribute to the formation of cataracts and to macular degeneration. Since the effects are cumulative, the more exposed your eyes are to UV rays, the higher the danger of damage to the cornea, retina, and lens becomes. The thinning of the Earth’s ozone layer has reduced its function as a UV filter, so it is now more dangerous than ever to eyes (and skin) to spend unprotected hours in the sun.
- Wear high-quality sunglasses with a rating of 99- or 100-percent UVA and UVB protection. Check the label when buying non-prescription lenses.
- If you aren’t sure about the quality of your sunglasses, ask your optometrist or optician to check their protection level.
- If you purchase prescription lenses, be sure to ask about including protection (which can be colorless) against UV radiation.
- Contact lenses may provide some protection, but only to the part of the eye they actually cover, so sunglasses should still be worn.
- Gray-colored lenses provide the most natural colors, while lenses tinted amber may boost your vision a bit by creating greater contrast. However, amber lenses can also make it harder to distinguish traffic-light colors, which may make gray lenses more desirable for some individuals.
- Large lenses are better than small ones, and wrap-around lenses are even better since UV rays can enter the eyeball from the sides, above, and below.
- While polarized lenses reduce glare, make sure they are coated to make them UV-protective as well.
- Mirrored lenses don’t necessarily block UV light, so make sure they are marked as UV-protective.
- Clouds don’t block ultraviolet light, so wear your sunglasses even on cloudy or overcast days.
- Eye protection is especially important at the beach or in snow: Water and sand reflect and thus increase the intensity of UV rays from 10 to 20 percent, while snow can reflect up to 80 percent. Forty percent of UV rays can be detected two feet below the surface of the water.
- Children and teens should wear sunglasses, too, especially since they may spend more time in the sun, and sun damage to eyes (and skin) is cumulative over time. It’s estimated that over three-quarters of our exposure to UV rays occur before the age of 18.
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