Protecting Your VisionThink of your eyes as two-way windows. Your brain sees the outside world through your eyes. When those windows are damaged, your brain doesn’t see the full picture, which then affects the instructions it gives to the body. For example, if you were nearsighted and drove your car without your glasses… well, I think you know what would happen! But few people realize that your eyes are windows to the inside of your body, too. An optometrist can look at your eyes and quickly identify signs of AMD, cataracts, and glaucoma during an eye exam. But a good doctor can see much more – signs of high cholesterol levels, hypertension, diabetes, and various blood diseases. That’s why eye care begins with regular comprehensive eye exams. I recommend that you get one about every two years. Schedule one immediately if it’s been a while since you had one. Your optometrist can identify existing or potential areas of eye damage and recommend preventive and protective practices. Wearing protective eyewear is critical. Extended exposure to ultraviolent (UV) rays is linked to eye damage that can lead to vision loss. Sunglasses are the number one way to prevent this. Look for polarized sunglasses that block out both UV-A and UV-B radiation. Contact lenses can quickly become petri dishes if not properly cared for. Wash your hands thoroughly before putting in or taking out your contacts. Clean them as instructed. Dispose and replace them as instructed. And for heaven’s sake do not sleep with your contacts in! I don’t care if manufacturers say that it’s safe. It’s not. By the end of a day, contacts can get loaded with germs and bacteria. When you sleep with your contacts in, those germs and bacteria feast on the surface on your eyes. You’re practically asking for an eye infection or karatitis (inflammation of the cornea). Finally, a tip for the handymen out there. I’m all for you fixing and building things around the house. You’re getting exercise and stimulating your brain. But a lot of handy work involves a host eye irritants – solvents, oils, debris, dirt, etc. Wear protective goggles to prevent debris from entering your eyes. Wear gloves while working and wash your hands when you’re finished.
Healthy Habits for Healthy EyesAs an integrative health practitioner, I’m a firm believer that living a healthy lifestyle prevents a host of illnesses and diseases. Such is true for your eyes. And I want to share some tips to keep your eyes healthy that you might not hear from your optometrist:
- Limit screen time: We’re spending more and more time in front of TVs, laptops and smartphone screens, and that extra time is damaging our eyes – causing eyestrain, dry eyes, and blurred vision. I’m not suggesting you toss your TVs and phones, but you should reduce the time you use them. In addition, give your eyes a break using the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 20-second break and look at something that is 20 feet away. It keeps your eye muscles limber and prevents overstraining.
- Filter blue light: I also recommend that you filter the blue light emitting from those screens. You can do this two ways: 1. Download an app that filters blue light. Many devices have this feature in its settings. 2. Wear glasses that specifically protect your eyes from blue light emissions.
- Monitor glucose levels and blood pressure: Those vessels supplying blood and oxygen are prone to damage if you have high glucose levels or blood pressure. High glucose can cause vessels to leak, leading to eye swelling and irritation. High blood pressure damages your retina, which can lead to eye bleeding, blurred vision, and loss of vision. If you have diabetes and hypertension, it’s critical that you manage them both to preserve your vision.
- Eat a healthy diet: Just like the rest of your body, what you eat affects your eye health. Colorful fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants that protect your eyes and vitamins that deter eye disease. For example, vitamin A fights off AMD and promotes healthy vision. But it’s hard to get a full spectrum of vision protecting vitamins and minerals through diet alone. Supplements can help too.
- Supplements for eye health: Beta carotene is what your body turns into vitamin A. Lutein and zeaxanthin are not as widely known. They are natural antioxidants found in your eyes that help absorb blue light and reduce UV ray damage. Green and yellow vegetables are rich in lutein and Studies show that increasing your intake of them (whether by diet or supplement) can reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including AMD and cataracts.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking ravages your lungs and heart, but it also damages your eyes. It increases your chances for developing AMD and diabetic retinopathy, both of which can lead to vision loss. Smoking – even exposure to second-hand smoke – exacerbates dry eye. And the longer you smoke, the greater your risk of permanently damaging your eyes.
Keep an Eye on Your HealthYour eyesight is vital to your daily functioning. Protecting your eyes and preventing eye disease goes hand-in-hand with a healthy lifestyle. Especially as we get older. Keep a clear focus on your daily health habits so that your “windows” remain clear, clean, and strong.
- “Diabetic Eye Disease.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.” Published May 2017.
- “High Blood Pressure and Eye Disease.” WebMD. Last reviewed July 24, 2016.
- Boyd, Kierstan. “Smoking and Eye Disease.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. Last reviewed April 27, 2017.
- Kvansakul, J., M. Rodriguez-Carmona, et al. “Supplementation with the carotenoids lutein or zeaxanthin improves human visual performance.” Ophthalmic Physiol Opt 26(4): 362-71. Published July 26, 2006.