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10 Eye Health Tips to Protect Your Vision

1. Keep Screens at a Distance

Screens have pro­lif­er­at­ed far beyond lap­tops and desk­tops. Now there are smart­phones, tablets, e-read­ers, and MP3 players—not to men­tion the screens that we encounter at air­ports, sub­way and train sta­tions, movie the­aters, and sport­ing events. The con­trast and the glare of an elec­tron­ic screen can even­tu­al­ly lead to eye­strain and, in some cas­es, com­put­er vision syn­drome, which hap­pens after pro­longed use. Symp­toms can include headaches, blurred vision, neck pain, dry or red eyes, fatigue, dou­ble vision, and dif­fi­cul­ty refo­cus­ing.

It’s actu­al­ly mid­dle-aged peo­ple who spend the most time in front of screens—an aver­age of 9.5 hours a day, accord­ing to a study by the Coun­cil for Research Excel­lence. “Not only are we view­ing screens for longer peri­ods with­out breaks, but we’re work­ing with hand­held devices at clos­er dis­tances than we would with print­ed mate­ri­als,” says optometrist Mark Rosen­field, Ph.D., a pro­fes­sor of clin­i­cal edu­ca­tion at the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York Col­lege of Optom­e­try, in Man­hat­tan. (And as you age, the clos­er you are to an object when you read it, the more work your eyes have to do to main­tain focus.)

Experts rec­om­mend that you keep your eyes at least an arm’s length from a com­put­er screen and 16 inch­es from a hand­held device. How­ev­er, accord­ing to a 2011 paper pub­lished in the jour­nal Optom­e­try and Vision Sci­ence, peo­ple on aver­age hold smart­phones about 14 inch­es away when read­ing and some­times as close as sev­en inch­es.
If you can’t eas­i­ly read the text on your handheld’s screen from at least 16 inch­es away, increase the font size. To min­i­mize eye­strain with any device, make sure that you’re read­ing in soft light­ing that doesn’t cause glare. For a desk­top com­put­er, con­sid­er invest­ing in an antiglare fil­ter that clips to the mon­i­tor.

2. Take Blinking Breaks

In every­day life, we blink about 15 to 20 times a minute. But that rate drops by half when we’re view­ing text on a screen. “Blink­ing is impor­tant because the upper eye­lid spreads tears over the front of the eye, or cornea, just like a wind­shield wiper works,” says Rosen­field. “If you don’t do it enough, the cornea can dry out and feel irri­tat­ed.” He rec­om­mends using the 20/20/20 rule when star­ing at a screen: Every 20 min­utes, look 20 feet away for 20 sec­onds so you can blink nat­u­ral­ly and give your eyes time to relax. If you suf­fer from chron­i­cal­ly dry eyes, try using a lap­top instead of a desk­top com­put­er. When you’re look­ing down at a lap­top, less eye sur­face is exposed and there’s less tear evap­o­ra­tion and your eyes stay more moist. If you have to use a desk­top, raise your chair or tilt your screen four inch­es below eye lev­el, as mea­sured from the cen­ter of the screen, so you aren’t look­ing straight ahead.

3. Wear Shades

Over time, expo­sure to ultra­vi­o­let (UV) rays can dete­ri­o­rate vision, lead­ing to cataracts (a cloud­ing of the eyes’ lens­es); age-relat­ed mac­u­lar degen­er­a­tion, or AMD (loss of sight in the cen­ter of the field of vision); and non­cancer­ous and can­cer­ous growths on the eyes’ sur­face, eye­lids, and sur­round­ing skin, accord­ing to optometrist Rachel Cohn, the own­er of the Wink Eye­care Bou­tique, in Potomac, Mary­land.

The Amer­i­can Opto­met­ric Asso­ci­a­tion rec­om­mends sun­glass­es that block at least 99 per­cent of UVA and UVB radi­a­tion and that screen out 75 to 90 per­cent of vis­i­ble light. Look for an “ANSI” stick­er on the sun­glass­es, which indi­cates that they meet these guide­lines as proven by the Amer­i­can Nation­al Stan­dards Insti­tute. And if you plan to spend a lot of time out­doors, it’s a good idea to get sun­glass­es with lens­es that are polar­ized, which means that they’ve been treat­ed to reduce glare.

Though a new gen­er­a­tion of con­tact lens­es can help deflect some of the sun’s harm­ful rays (such as Acu­vue True­Eye, which is pop­u­lar among dry-eye suf­fer­ers), they don’t cov­er the eye­lids, “so you’ll still want to top off with a pair of sun­glass­es,” says Cohn. Find the per­fect sun­glass­es for your face shape.

4. Try a Seafood Diet

You prob­a­bly know that omega-3 fat­ty acids can bol­ster heart and brain health, but they can also decrease your risk of eye dis­ease. Accord­ing to a study pub­lished in the 2011 Archives of Oph­thal­mol­o­gy, women who ate canned tuna and dark-fish meat (mack­er­el, salmon, sar­dines, blue­fish, sword­fish) just once a week had a 42 per­cent low­er risk for AMD than those who ate such fish less than once a month. “Fish oils and fish-oil sup­ple­ments are loaded with antiox­i­dants that help pre­vent the dam­age from free rad­i­cals that can cause dis­eases like AMD,” says Tanya Zucker­brot, a reg­is­tered dietit­ian in New York City. Anoth­er rea­son to go fish: Increas­ing your intake of omega-3s may also sup­port health­i­er tear film. (Eat at least five to six four-ounce serv­ings of fat­ty fish week­ly.)

5. Go for the Greens

Car­rots have a rep­u­ta­tion as the go-to veg­etable for healthy eye­sight, and it’s true that “get­ting short­changed on vit­a­min A, a key nutri­ent in car­rots, could con­tribute to the dete­ri­o­ra­tion of your vision,” says Zucker­brot. But the real star nutri­ents are lutein and zeaxanthin—pigments found in such foods as dark, leafy greens, broc­coli, zuc­chi­ni, peas, and Brus­sels sprouts. Researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Geor­gia in Athens dis­cov­ered that leafy green veg­eta­bles may improve vision by reduc­ing the stress­ful effects of glare and expo­sure to bright light, because they help absorb some of that light. Find more infor­ma­tion on how a healthy diet can pro­tect your vision.

Fur­ther evi­dence for the pow­er of pro­duce: A British study pub­lished in the 2011 Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal Nutri­tion revealed that veg­e­tar­i­ans had a 30 per­cent low­er risk of devel­op­ing cataracts than peo­ple who ate 3.5 ounces of meat a day.

6. Start Steeping

You may want to swap that after­noon cup of cof­fee for green tea: Not only is it hydrat­ing (which helps you pro­duce tears) but the brew also con­tains cat­e­chins, which are among a host of antiox­i­dants (like vit­a­mins C and E, lutein, and zeax­an­thin) that may defend the eyes’ tis­sues from AMD and cataracts. Research from the Chi­nese Uni­ver­si­ty of Hong Kong has proven that cat­e­chins are absorbed in the high­est con­cen­tra­tions by the tis­sues in the reti­na, the part of the eye that detects light.

7. Treat Contacts With Care

Approx­i­mate­ly 85 per­cent of those who wear con­tacts claim that they’re car­ing for their lens­es prop­er­ly, but only 2 per­cent real­ly are, found one study con­duct­ed by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas South­west­ern Med­ical Cen­ter, in Dal­las. “One of the most harm­ful but com­mon infrac­tions is moist­en­ing con­tacts with sali­va instead of saline solu­tion,” says Eliot Gross­man, the chief of eye health and optom­e­try for LensCrafters, in Orange Coun­ty, Cal­i­for­nia. “Hun­dreds of bac­te­ria from your mouth will be intro­duced direct­ly to your eye, which could cause a seri­ous infec­tion.” The same is true for water or any oth­er “non­tra­di­tion­al” sub­stance. (In one study, peo­ple fessed up to moist­en­ing con­tacts with every­thing from beer to but­ter to baby oil.) And always store lens­es in fresh solu­tion.

Gross­man also rec­om­mends remov­ing lens­es even before naps and giv­ing your eyes a break by wear­ing glass­es once a week. And to keep your con­tacts and their case bac­te­ria-free, wash your hands before han­dling them and replace con­tacts as fre­quent­ly as pre­scribed.

8. Make Over Your Makeup Routine

Bac­te­ria can thrive in mas­cara, so toss the tube after three months. Also, sharp­en lin­er pen­cils reg­u­lar­ly. It’s okay, of course, to line the base of your lash­es, but “putting lin­er inside the lash line can block the oil glands, which pro­tect your eyes’ sur­face,” says Ruth D. Williams, M.D., a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Oph­thal­mol­o­gy.

9. Get Your Goggles On

You don’t have to work on a fac­to­ry floor to sus­tain an on-the-job injury. Accord­ing to a 2008 study from the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Oph­thal­mol­o­gy and the Amer­i­can Soci­ety of Ocu­lar Trau­ma, of the 2.5 mil­lion eye injuries that Amer­i­cans suf­fer annu­al­ly, near­ly half hap­pen at home.

Peo­ple under­stand that you need safe­ty glass­es or gog­gles when using pow­er tools. But we should also wear them for things like yard work, basic home repairs—like saw­ing, sand­ing, drilling, nail­ing, painting—and cer­tain clean­ing jobs, like clean­ing the oven,” says Justin Bazan, a Brook­lyn-based optometrist and a med­ical advis­er to the Vision Coun­cil. “Chem­i­cals tough enough to clean appli­ances will dam­age eyes on con­tact.”

10. See a Doctor

Even if you’re not among the 81 per­cent of Amer­i­cans who need cor­rec­tive eye­wear, experts rec­om­mend that all adults get a com­pre­hen­sive eye exam (dur­ing which the doc­tor dilates your pupils with drops) by age 40. Fol­low up with year­ly exams there­after or as rec­om­mend­ed. Go soon­er if you have symp­toms such as per­sis­tent pain inside or behind your eyes, red­ness, or grad­ual loss of vision. You also may need to start ear­li­er if a fam­i­ly mem­ber had glau­co­ma or you have dia­betes, which puts you at a high­er risk for vision-relat­ed issues.

A com­pre­hen­sive eye exam can also be an impor­tant barom­e­ter of over­all health. “The eyes are the only part of the body where we can view arter­ies and veins with­out surgery or inci­sions,” says optometrist Andrea P. Thau, an asso­ciate clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor at the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York Col­lege of Optom­e­try and a spokesper­son for the Amer­i­can Opto­met­ric Asso­ci­a­tion. “This allows an eye doc­tor to assess your risk for things like stroke, dia­betes, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, brain tumors, aneurysms, and mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.”

Does Health Insurance Cover Eye Exams?

More than a third of us skip eye exams because we’re con­cerned that insur­ance won’t foot the bill, revealed a 2011 report by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. “Peo­ple often think they’re not eli­gi­ble unless they have a spe­cial vision-care plan,” says Ruth D. Williams, M.D., a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Oph­thal­mol­o­gy (AAO). But reg­u­lar health insur­ance typ­i­cal­ly cov­ers screen­ings for those with an increased risk fac­tor for dis­ease, such as a fam­i­ly his­to­ry of glau­co­ma. Are you under­in­sured? The pub­lic-ser­vice orga­ni­za­tion Eye Care Amer­i­ca (admin­is­tered by the Foun­da­tion of the AAO; eyecareamerica.org) pro­vides free or reduced-cost exams and eye care to those who qual­i­fy.

Are Your Habits Hurting Your Eyes?

The habit: read­ing in low light.
The truth: “Eyes can work well even in dim light. In fact, this helps the ocu­lar mus­cles react optimally—provided that you’re not in the pitch dark, of course—and that can keep your vision sharp­er longer,” says optometrist Hilary L. Hawthorne, a trustee of the Amer­i­can Opto­met­ric Asso­ci­a­tion.

The habit: wait­ing to get a stronger pre­scrip­tion for glass­es or con­tact lens­es.
The truth: Using a weak pre­scrip­tion won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly make eyes worse. The prob­lem is that “the symp­toms, like blurred vision, that are prompt­ing you to get a stronger pre­scrip­tion may be caused by a more seri­ous, unde­tect­ed prob­lem, such as cataracts,” says Hawthorne. And that can be caught only with a com­pre­hen­sive eye exam.

The habit: con­stant­ly using eye­drops that reduce red­ness.
The truth: Doc­tors don’t rec­om­mend long-term use of red­ness-alle­vi­at­ing drops. Although ini­tial­ly they help to restrict the blood ves­sels in the eyes (“get­ting the red out”), that effect even­tu­al­ly wears off and caus­es a rebound effect. “You’ll have a much red­der eye that’s resis­tant to the drops,” says Hawthorne. Instead, use arti­fi­cial tears (made with saline) as rec­om­mend­ed by your doc­tor.

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August 28th, 2017|Comments Off on 10 Eye Health Tips to Protect Your Vision

About the Author:

Born in Connecticut and raised in Upstate New York , Dr. Stetson graduated Cum Laude from Colgate University in New York, and then earned an MD degree with honors at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. He distinguished himself again in residency at the Albany Medical Center, where he obtained the highest percentile in the Ophthalmology Knowledge Assessment Examinations. Dr. Stetson has performed more than 50,000 refractive surgeries and has been on staff at Diamond Vision since 2004, before becoming Medical Director in 2006.

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