Did you know that October is National Eye Injury Prevention Month? In order to celebrate…er, raise awareness, we decided to find out how you can keep your eyes healthy. After all, you only get two of them!
To brush up on eye health, I talked to two eye professionals, Dr. Paul E. Michelson, MD, Chairman of the Better Vision Institute and Dr. Justin Bazan, OD (an optometrist). Both are on the professional advisory board of The Vision Council. Here are some general tips and guidelines for how you can keep your peepers in top shape:
Both of the eye professionals I spoke to stressed the importance of regular eye exams, especially if you have a family history of poor vision or of macular degeneration. It’s generally accepted to get an eye exam every three years, but Dr. Bazan says, “I urge all adults to get annual eye exams, not just a vision check. Just because you see well, does not mean that your eyes are healthy.”
Your personal eye exam schedule should be based on a number of factors, including family history, age, other health conditions and general health. Regular eye exams can help doctors catch diseases like glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy early.
You know how your grandmother told you to eat carrots because they make your eyesight better? Well, she was right. Carrots have lots of vitamin A, a nutrient that helps with good vision. And that’s not all you should be eating: Dr. Michelson said, “studies have found that dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale, and foods high in omega 3 fatty acids, like fish oil, can reduce the risk of macular degeneration.”
Some doctors also recommend taking specific vitamins, like lutein (a vitamin that is specifically linked to eye health). If you’re interested in taking supplements, talk to your eye doctor about which ones (and brands) he or she might recommend based on your specific eye situation.
Take Care of Your Eyewear
If you wear glasses, keep them as clean as possible (that includes cleaning the actual frames of the glasses, too, not just the lenses). Use a cloth specially designed for lenses so as not to scratch them. And keep your glasses in a case at all times when they’re not being worn. Glasses aren’t cheap to replace; it’s also important to keep them in good working condition so you don’t find yourself with a broken pair. It’s also smart to also have a backup pair on hand, just in case you lose or break yours.
In terms of contact lenses, the doctors had a lot to tell me. There’s so much contact lens misuse out there in the world (only 2% of contact lens wearers treat them correctly!), and treating your contacts incorrectly can put you at risk for all sorts of eye problems, including corneal ulcers and keratitis (an inflamed cornea).
I’m pretty sure we all know not sleep in our contacts (AHEM self when I’ve had too much to drink!), but Dr. Michelson especially warns against this practice: “The more you wear contacts overnight – no matter how great the lens is – the less oxygen your cornea is able to receive.”
He also told me that the less you manipulate and use your contacts, the less likely you are to get an infection. Both doctors prefer the daily contacts for this reason, but if you don’t wear that kind, it’s imperative that you follow the instructions for the kind you do have. Don’t wear them for longer than they’re prescribed for.
Another consideration for contacts wearers? The kind of solution you use. I was using Target brand for months and was having lots and lots of contact pain. After I read this article by fellow Blisstree writer Hanna, in which I learned that generic brands of contact solution can have lots of inactive ingredients, I switched to Bausch and Lomb and my pain was gone.
Protect Your Eyes
Wear UV-protective sunglasses whenever you’re outside, regardless of how sunny the day might be. Dr. Michelson stresses that “constant protection can safeguard eyes from long-term issues like pterygium (or “surfer’s eye”), cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and cancer of the eye, eyelid and surrounding skin.”
This is common sense, but it’s worth mentioning that you should also wear protective eyewear (goggles, eye guards, or safety glasses) whenever you’re working with power tools or doing any kind of home improvement. Dr. Michelson says he’s also seen terrible eye injuries in basketball, tennis and racquetball players, so it’s worth considering wearing eyewear during those sports, too.
Prevent Digital Eye Strain
Our increasing dependence on digital screen is also making us susceptible to digital eye strain. Because of the way texts and graphics appear on digital screens, our eyes must constantly adjust and refocus to process them, and this can lead to strain. It’s actually fairly easy to prevent digital eye strain. Dr. Bazan said:
The average person with healthy eyes, normal focusing and eye aiming will find the best prevention of digital eye strain is to take breaks from electronics. Ideally taking a 20 second break, every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away (the 20/20/20 rule). This gives your eyes a chance to relax and reset. I know that can be tough to stick to, so at the very least try to take a 5 minute break on the hour. I like to get up and get a glass of water.
He also suggests making sure the computer you use most regularly is at am arm’s length away, as this can help the eye focus properly. If you wear prescription lenses, talk to your doctor about your computer/tablet/phone/other digital use; he or she may be able to give you a prescription specifically for use with your digital screen.