March is National Save Your Vision Month, which is a good reminder not to take healthy eyesight for granted. “When you’re seeing well and have no irritation, it’s easy to forget about going to the eye doctor,” says Pamela Lowe, OD, FAAO. But preventing eye disease is so important—often, if you wait until you notice a problem, it can be too late. Luckily, there are plenty of simple things you can do each day to keep your sight in tip-top shape. Here, 10 easy ways to be proactive about your eye health.
Get Regular Eye Exams
Seems obvious, right? Surprisingly, many people who care about their eyesight aren’t always that good about getting to the doctor. A survey by the American Optometric Association (AOA) found that 85 percent of people valued their sight as their most prized sense, but less than half of that group had had an eye exam in the past two or three years. What gives? “People tend not to think about preventive care…Many diseases affect the eye in such a way that you can see 20/20 until suddenly, one day you can’t,” says Dr. Lowe.
Adults, especially those over 40, should have yearly eye exams, particularly to prevent age-related ocular conditions including macular degeneration (the part of the retina that processes light deteriorates), cataracts (the lens of your eye becomes cloudy) and glaucoma (pressure in the eye damages the optic nerve). Children should have their first eye exam between the ages of 6 and 12 months. “It’s important to detect visual problems that could impede a child’s ability to learn,” says Dr. Lowe. To make that easier, the AOA has a program called InfantSEE that allows babies to have their first eye exam at no cost, regardless of insurance coverage.
Give Your Eye Doctor Your Health History
Be sure your optometrist or ophthalmologist knows about what’s medically relevant. “The most important contribution a patient can give me is a thorough and accurate health history,” says Dr. Lowe. Patients often don’t realize that there’s a connection between illnesses in the body and eye issues. Hypertension, blood pressure and diabetes can all be detected by looking in the back of the eye, so “alert your doctor to your risk factors so she can take the right course of action during the exam.” Also mention your hobbies to your doctor—knowing what sports or leisure activities you like to do in your free time makes it easier for him or her to make appropriate recommendations for correcting vision and keeping your eyes healthy
Control the Air Quality in Your Home or Office
In the winter, the heating systems in homes and offices create dry air. Consider using a portable humidifier to keep the air moist, which will help prevent eye irritation caused by dryness. If you have a pet, keeping their hair off areas where you sit or lie down, like couches and chairs, is important as well. Along with shedding dander, pets can also track in other irritants from outside that can cause inflammation in the eyes.
Stock Your Home Medical Kit with Saline Solution
When pouring chemicals or using power tools, you should always wear safety goggles. But that level of protection isn’t necessary around the house, so if you accidentally splash soap or cleansers in your eye, the first thing you should do is rinse thoroughly with saline for 10 to 15 minutes. That may seem like a long time, but rinsing is the best way to clear the eyes. If you still experience irritation after that, visit your eye doctor.
Replace Your Contact Lens Case Every Two to Three Months
“A huge reason why my patients experience complications is that they don’t clean their lens cases,” says Dr. Lowe. “People throw them into their pockets or purses or store them in a humid bathroom, which is a breeding ground for bacteria.” So replace your case often and keep it in a clean, dry place. After you put in your contacts, be sure that the case is empty of all solution: Dump it out, then rinse and dry the case before you store your lenses in it again.
Drink Caffeine—but Not Too Much
Good news for coffee and tea drinkers: Two servings of a caffeinated beverage daily are good for protecting against dry eyes (this helps us produce tears, which keep the eyes moist). But keep in mind that more than two servings can deplete your tear film and dry out your eyes, which can contribute to irritation.
Give Your Eyes a Break from the Computer Screen
If you work in front of a computer screen all day, use the 20-20-20 rule to let your eyes rest: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away or more for at least 20 seconds. It helps break the eyes’ constant strain of focusing from doing close work, like reading or looking at a computer monitor. And always be sure that you’re a comfortable arm’s distance away from what you’re looking at or reading, says Dr. Lowe. Another reason to give your eyes a break: According to Dr. Lowe, when we concentrate, whether it’s on reading or on the computer, we blink about half as many times as we do when we aren’t concentrating. Blinking is how we bring fresh tears to the corneal surface, which helps your eyes stay moist and free of irritants. So the more we concentrate, the drier our eyes become
8. Eat Leafy Greens, Dark Berries and Cold-Water Fish
Eating carrots to improve our vision is an old wives’ tale, says Dr. Lowe. (Though they can’t hurt—you just have to eat a whole lot of them to reap any benefits.) But don’t discount the power of other fruits and veggies. Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts, as well as dark berries, like blueberries and blackberries, are rich in lutein, a type of carotenoid that protects against macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in people over 60. Foods rich in omega-3s, like walnuts and fresh cold-water fish, have been found to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels of the eye.
Protect Your Eyes as You Would Protect Your Skin
Every time you lather on sunscreen, think about shielding your eyes from the sun as well. A lifetime of UV light exposure can contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration, so always wear sunglasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. And since, by the time you hit age 18, you’ve already received 80 percent of the UV light that you’ll be exposed to in a lifetime, it’s crucial to protect your children’s eyes as well.
“Airplane air quality tends to be drier and more irritating to the eye, especially if you’re a contact lens wearer,” says Dr. Lowe. Using rewetting or lubricating drops in your eyes before boarding (keep the bottle handy during the flight too) is a smart way to prevent irritation caused by dry eyes. Bring along an extra pair of lenses and your glasses, just in case. And while you’re on vacation, it’s never a good idea to expose contact lenses to pool or hot tub water, which is full of irritating chemicals and bacteria that can cause infections.