By Salim Juma
Managing Director at Eye Emporium
And Optometrist with more than 20 years experience
As you know, your eyesight is incredibly valuable. Without it even the simplest task would become extremely challenging. Even a small deterioration can make life difficult without the right correction.
That’s why it’s vitally important that you take every measure possible to keep your eyes in great condition.
Many people think that this simply means visiting their optician when they experience a change in their vision, discomfort or headaches, but in reality there is far more that you can do to take care of your eyes.
At Eye Emporium we have a wealth of experience caring for our patient’s eye health. We often hear similar questions and concerns about people’s vision; that’s why we’ve put together this guide.
It explains 10 of the best ways that you can protect your eyes from damage, keep them healthy, and ward off the ageing process.
Tip 1: Visit a trusted optician regularly
A simple tip to start with. It’s common sense to go and see an optician when you have a problem with your eyes or vision, but did you know that many eye conditions don’t present symptoms until damage has already been caused?
Eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts may present no symptoms in the first instance but have the potential to cause serious damage to your vision. Fortunately, routine eye testing can detect these conditions in their early stages before any irreversible damage is caused.
Other non-eye related problems can also be spotted at a routine eye exam, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and thyroid disease. This is why we recommend that you visit a trusted optician for a full eye exam at least once every 18 months (or more frequently if advised by your optician).
As well as detecting potentially serious diseases, regular eye testing looks at how your eyes process light, your vision, it checks that your blood vessels and optic nerve are in good condition and how well your eyes work together, as well as checking that the surface of the eye is healthy, that you don’t have any blind spots and that your focus is corrected (if necessary). Your eye appointment also gives you the opportunity to discuss any concerns that you may have about your eyesight.
Choosing the right optician can be as important as the test itself. It’s vital that you pick a practice that will dedicate sufficient time to thorough testing, explaining the tests and your results to you and also to helping you choose vision correction that suits your lifestyle. Don’t be tempted to choose the optician that offers the lowest priced testing – remember that you get what you pay for and when it comes to your eyes you shouldn’t be willing to cut corners.
Tip 2: Learn your family history
Many health problems are genetic and this is still true when it comes to your eyes. Diseases such as glaucoma and age related macular degeneration can be caused by genetic factors, so if a member of your family suffers from poor eye health you should ensure that your optician knows about it and attend regular sight tests.
If you are over 40 and have a family history of glaucoma it is important that you have a sight test at least once a year. This allows your optician to monitor any changes and treat any symptoms immediately should they occur. The NHS pays for your annual sight test if you fall into this category, so there’s no excuse to skip an appointment!
Tip 3: Follow a healthy diet
Following a healthy diet has great benefits for your entire body – including your eyes. Eating a wide range of foods will provide you with the vitamins and minerals needed to keep your eyesight in great shape and can reduce your risk of developing diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.
Anti-oxidant vitamins A, C and E help to maintain healthy cells and tissues in the eye. Include fruits and vegetables such as oranges, kiwis and grapefruits, spinach, green beans and broccoli in your diet, as well as nuts and seeds, to boost your vitamin intake.
Eggs – and their yolks in particular – are fantastic for maintaining great eye health. They contain lutein and zeaxanthin which protect your eye pigments. Dark fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and leafy greens also contain these important anti-oxidants.
Fatty acids such as omega 3 are perfect for protecting your eyes from damage. Omega 3 – which can be found in oily fish, eggs, meat, and cheese – can reduce the risk of glaucoma and macular degeneration, as well as protecting you from dry eye.
Tip 4: Prevent dry eye
As I’ve mentioned, fatty acid omega 3 can make a big difference in protecting you from dry eye. Dry eyes are a relatively common cause of irritation that occurs if there is a problem with the tear film that keeps your eye lubricated.
There are a number of causes of dry eye such as ageing, environment and medication. It can make your eyes irritated, your vision blurred or make you sensitive to bright light. If you wear contact lenses dry eye can make them very uncomfortable.
Incorporate omega 3 into your diet at least 3 times a week by eating oily fish, eggs, meat and cheese to prevent dry eye.
If you do suffer from dry eyes tell your optician. After examination they can recommend artificial tears, ointment or in more extreme cases, medication to resolve the problem.
If you wear contact lenses dry eye can be more common. It is worth noting that some eye drops aren’t suitable for contact lens wearers so consult your optician if you are unsure. Make sure that you give your eyes a break from your lenses frequently, and remember that you shouldn’t wear your lenses if you have been given ointment to treat dry eye.
Tip 5: Protect your eyes at work
Whether you work in an office or in the great outdoors you should take steps to protect your eyes from potential damage.
Sitting indoors at a computer screen can give you headaches, tired eyes and even cause problems with your focus. It’s really important that you take regular breaks from your computer screen. Every 20 minutes take 20 seconds or so to focus on something in the distance. This gives your eye muscles a break and encourages you to blink more.
Sit with the monitor at arm’s length and ensure that the screen is slightly below eye level. Clean your screen frequently and move your screen so that you have no glare from lights or windows. Also, if you have been prescribed glasses to wear when working on a computer make sure you wear them!
If you work outdoors or in hazardous environments you should wear protective eyewear to prevent damage to your eyes. Sunglasses will protect you from harsh UV rays and protective goggles can stop dust, dirt or other foreign objects entering your eyes, meaning that you aren’t at risk of damaging your cornea.
Tip 6: Wear sunglasses
While UV rays are at their highest in the summer months, they are present all year round, even on cloudy, overcast days. These invisible rays cause damage to your eyesight that can’t be reversed, much like the damage they can cause to your skin. In turn, this can lead to a number of eye problems such as cataracts, macular degeneration and photokeratitis (sunburn of the eye).
Invest in a pair of sunglasses that provide both UVA and UVB protection and wear them whenever it’s sunny – not just when you’re on holiday. Sunglasses can filter out up to 100% of UVA and UVB light and these are what we recommend to our patients.
Remember, just because a lens is darker doesn’t mean that it offers a higher level of UV protection.
Tip 7: Quit smoking
It’s a well-known fact that smoking is bad for your health, but what might not be as obvious is the impact it can have on your eyesight.
According to research, smokers are up to four times more likely to go blind in old age thanks to age related macular degeneration (ARMD). ARMD causes the gradual loss of central vision which is essential for reading, driving and detailed work. This damage is irreversible.
Smoking also constricts the blood vessels in your eyes leaving them red, increasing the pressure in the eye and potentially causing glaucoma and optic nerve damage and cataracts.
Studies have shown that quitting smoking can help to reverse some of the damage that has been caused to your eyes and can help to reduce the risk of ARMD later in life.
Tip 8: Follow contact lens advice
If you wear contact lenses you will know how convenient they can be. Your glasses don’t get in the way when playing sports, you have a better field of vision and you don’t have to worry about leaving your specs anywhere; but you do have to make sure that you look after them properly.
If you don’t follow the contact lens advice that your optician gives you, you risk dry eye, infection or even blindness. That might sound extreme but failing to care for your contact lenses in a hygienic, safe way can lead to serious problems.
Wearing lenses for too long can lead to dry eye which can be irritating. Make sure that you don’t over-wear your lenses. Wear your glasses in the daytime or perhaps in the evenings after work or try to go a couple of days each week without wearing your lenses to give your eyes a break.
Failing to clean your lenses properly can leave you open to infection from bacteria. Bacteria needs water, food and warmth to breed and if on your contacts in your eyes they have exactly that. Take the time to clean your lenses after you remove them and before you put them in. If you’re unsure how to do this ask your optician and they will show you.
Always clean your contact lenses with the correct solution and never with water. Organisms like acanthamoeba live in water and, while extremely rare, can cause blindness if trapped in the eye.
When you wear contact lenses it is vital that you have a check-up once every 6 months. This ensures that you are handling your lenses correctly, that they are not causing any damage to your eyes and that your prescription is up to date. You can also use these appointments to discuss any questions you may have about your lenses.
Tip 9: Avoid eye strain
I’ve already explained that it is important to take breaks from your computer in the office to prevent eye strain, but other situations may also cause strain to the eyes.
Reading, watching television, and bad lighting can also cause eye strain so make sure that you take a break from focusing on one thing for too long. Make sure that you remember to blink frequently and avoid reading, using the computer or watching the TV in poor lighting.
If you do have to focus on a book or screen for an extended period of time, take regular breaks to give your eye muscles a break and look around the room. Perhaps focus on something in the distance for a while or take a walk around the house.
If you regularly get headaches or tired eyes then speak to your optician to find out if they can suggest a solution.
Tip 10: Make time to exercise
Exercise can benefit your body in countless ways, one of which is to help maintain healthy vision.
Regular exercise reduces the pressure inside your eyes and improves the blood flow to your retina and optic nerve, which reduces the risk of glaucoma and ARMD by up to 70%. Just walking regularly can help reduce the risk by 30%.
As well as exercise for the whole body, you can try exercises specifically designed for the eyes. Eye exercises can work to strengthen the muscles in your eyes just as regular exercise works to strengthen muscles anywhere else in your body.
Try looking as far left as you can, then as far right as you can. Repeat this five times. Then circle your eyes clockwise 5 times, then anti-clockwise 5 times. This type of exercise can also be a good break from staring at a computer screen all day!
I hope this guide has helped you to realise that while deterioration of our eyesight is inevitable, you can delay the effects of ageing on your eyes with the right care and attention. You can also lead a healthier lifestyle and make regular trips to your optician to prevent eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts.
If you would like more information about anything you have just read, or to book an appointment to have your eyes tested at Eye Emporium opticians, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can contact our practices by calling 0800 020 9202.
Eye Emporium opticians