Taking care of your eyes is as essential to your health as any other organ. In the United States, approximately 12 million people 40 years and older have some form of vision impairment. That includes the 1 million people who are blind, 3 million who have vision impairment after correction, and 8 million who have vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error.
To prevent vision loss and other impairments, it’s important to get regular checkups to identify and treat eye disease as early as possible. But in addition to a regular comprehensive dilated eye exam, there are a number of other things you can do to keep your eyes healthy and make sure you’re seeing your best.
High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) affects people who have diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes, is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye. It can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated. 90% of blindness caused by diabetes, however, is preventable. To manage your blood sugar levels, talk to your healthcare team to set and reach goals for blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
When thinking about eye health, keep in mind your family’s medical history. Some eye diseases are inherited, and prevention involves finding out if anyone in your family has a history of eye disease. Talking to your family members about their history can help to determine if you’re at higher risk for developing an eye disease or condition.
Eating a healthy diet—especially dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, or collard greens—can help support your eye health. Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut can also help your eyes.
You can protect your eyes from physical damages by wearing protective eyewear—like safety glasses, goggles, or safety shields—when playing sports or doing activities around the home. In addition, sun exposure can damage your eyes while increasing your risk of certain eye conditions like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. To protect your eyes, wear sunglasses that block out 99-100% of both UV-A and UV-B radiation.
Smoking is linked to increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataract, and optic nerve damage, all of which can lead to blindness. Avoiding smoking—or better yet, never starting—is as good for your eyes as it is for your overall health and wellbeing.
Using screens like the ones on your computer or phone can lead to eye strain. When looking at our screens for too long, sometimes we forget to blink, and your eyes can get fatigued. A simple solution? Try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.
If you wear contacts, not washing your hands when handling them and not washing the contacts themselves properly can put you at risk of infection. Take the time to wash your hands well before putting in or taking out your contacts, and disinfect your contact lenses as instructed and replace them when needed.
While all of these tips can help you to protect your eyes and maintain your vision, it’s still important to have regular eye tests and exams. Some eye diseases do not have any warning signs, and can only be detected—and treated—after a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Talk to your eye care provider today about your next eye exam to make sure you and your eyes stay healthy and well.