Learn to cut your chances for eye disease

A confident man enjoying a healthy snack at the gym

As we age, our risk for vision loss increases. Among the vision problems facing older people are cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, dry-eye disease, and diabetes.

The good news is that these conditions can, in many cases, be prevented or treated to minimize damage to vision. Here are some steps worth considering.

Nutrition is vital

Your eyes are connected to your stomach. Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins A, C and E may help fight age-related vision problems like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Here are a few tasty tips for making sure you get a healthy dose of these essential nutrients, compliments of Harvard Health1:

Omega-3 fatty acids Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, halibut, salmon, sardines, tuna, walnuts
Lutein Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, corn, eggs, kale, nectarines, oranges, papayas, romaine lettuce, spinach, squash
Zinc Chickpeas, oysters, pork chops, red meat, yogurt
Vitamin A Apricots, cantaloupe (raw), carrots, mangos, red peppers (raw), ricotta cheese (part-skim), spinach, sweet potatoes
Vitamin C Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, red peppers (raw), strawberries
Vitamin E Almonds, broccoli, peanut butter, spinach, sunflower seeds, wheat germ

Of course, it’s not just what you eat – it’s how much! Maintain an overall well-balanced diet to stay at a healthy weight, which helps lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. According to the National Institutes of Health, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults. Diabetes also boosts your risk for glaucoma and cataracts.

While a healthy diet is important for every part of our bodies, healthy habits can help prevent vision problems, as well.

Here are some great tips from WebMD:

  • Don't smoke. Smoking boosts your risk of cataracts, glaucoma, dry eyes, and macular degeneration.
  • Walk at least four times a week. Exercise can reduce the intraocular pressure (IOP) — pressure inside the eyes — in people with glaucoma. That improves blood flow to the eye. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation you don't have to exercise rigorously. IOP can be lowered by exercise that raises the pulse just 20-25% - that could be a brisk walk - for 20 minutes, a minimum of four times a week.2
  • Check your blood pressure regularly. High blood pressure can damage the delicate blood vessels that support eye health.
  • Keep your car vents aimed down. Dry, air-conditioned air will dry your eyes, too. Sunglasses also serve as a good shield. Seriously dry eyes can suffer corneal abrasions and even blindness if not treated.
  • Don't overheat your house. Heat dries out the air, and dry air leads to dry eyes.
  • Wear sunglasses outdoors. Choose sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. "Wraparound" lenses will help protect the sides of your eyes. Polarized lenses can help reduce glare when driving. People who wear contact lenses can now get contact lenses that offer UV protection.
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat along with your sunglasses. A wide-brimmed hat or cap can help block the sun's ultraviolet radiation that may sneak into your eyes from above or around glasses.

These days, it seems we’re all spending more and more time staring at our computer screens, which can cause eye strain. Take care of your eyes when you're reading or working at the computer with these helpful tips, again from WebMD:

  • Place your computer screen just below eye level. A lower screen position will make your eyes close slightly when you're staring at it, and eyes that aren't wide open are less likely to get dry. Blink often to keep your eyes moist.
  • Make sure your glasses or contact lens prescription is current. Try to avoid glare from windows and lights on your computer screen. If you need it, use an anti-glare screen.
  • Choose a comfortable, supportive chair, and sit with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Follow the 20/20/20 rule: Look away from your computer screen every 20 minutes at a spot 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This helps prevent eye fatigue and eyestrain.

Good hygiene supports good health. Help keep your eyes “clean” with the following advice from WebMD:

  • Buy new mascara every three months, and replace your other eye makeup once a year. Eye makeup harbors bacteria that can infect your eyes. And remove eye makeup every night before bed.
  • Better safe than sorry: Protect your eyes with goggles. Debris can scratch the surface of the eye, which can damage your vision. And if you're playing a sport like hockey or racquetball, consider protective face masks or goggles.
  • Use a fresh towel. Every time you wipe your face, go for a fresh face towel. Shared towels are a common source of "pinkeye," also known as conjunctivitis.

Regular eye exams are vital

Visit your eye doctor on a regular basis. Everyone — even young children — should have their eyes examined regularly. If you're at risk for eye problems or have a family history of them, this is even more important. Depending on your needs, you can see an optometrist or an ophthalmologist for an eye exam.

Optometrists can perform eye exams; prescribe glasses or contact lenses; diagnose eye conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration; and, in some states, prescribe medicine. Optometrists cannot, however, perform eye surgery.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who focus on eye care. They can provide general vision care, treat eye diseases, and perform eye surgery.

The National Federation for the Blind estimates there are 93,600 blind or visually impaired school age children in the U.S.3 Early intervention is critical. Children need their vision checked at six months, three years, and before first grade.

If a child exhibits any of the following symptoms, he or she should be checked right away:

  • Red or crusty eyes
  • Teary eyes
  • Extreme light sensitivity
  • White pupil(s)
  • Eye-rubbing
  • Squinting or head-tilting
  • Hand-eye coordination problems
  • Holding things very close to see
  • Sitting close to the TV
  • Avoiding reading or other "close-vision" work
  • Frequent headaches
  • Frequent blinking
  • Adults 19 to 60 years of age should have an eye exam at least every two years. If you have vision problems, a family history of eye disease, or high blood pressure or diabetes, your doctor may want to see you more often.

    At any age, you should see your doctor right away if you notice any of the following:

    • Changes in your vision
    • Double vision
    • Straight lines that start appearing as wavy lines
    • Blind spots
    • Lack of vision in the center of your eye
    • An increase of "floaters" — particles in the fluid of your eye that show up as small spots in your vision — especially if you also notice bright, flashing lights

    If you're 60 or older, you should have an eye exam once a year, or more often if your eye doctor thinks you need it. As you age, your risk increases for some eye diseases, such as glaucoma, that have no early symptoms. So a person can have this condition and not know it. However, major medical advances in detecting and treating age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts may help people with these conditions keep their vision.

    It’s clear to see: Regular eye exams are the best way to catch eye problems early when they're easier to treat.

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