It’s easy to put weakening sight down to ‘just getting older’. Although there is an element of truth in this, thankfully we now know that there is a lot that can be done to help protect eyes from ageing changes. Just as our bodies benefit from being treated well, so do our eyes!
So what can you do to look after yours better?
Smoking is probably the single worst thing you can do for your eyes, and vastly increases the risk of sight loss in later years.
We know that smokers have 4 times the risk of developing Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), and they are likely to develop it 10 years earlier than non-smokers. Smoking basically starves the retina of oxygen, causing wear & tear changes which can lead to blindness. Smoking is also known to cause cataract, dry eye, yellowing of the whites of the eye, and increases the risk of serious eye infections. Passive smoke is also very harmful, keep yourself and kids away from it!
We always think of protecting our skin from the sun but often forget our eyes, which are just as at risk from the dangers of UV.
We’re all aware of the risk of melanoma from sun exposure these days and the retina, iris, external eye and eyelids can be affected too. UV light is a major contributor to cataract, and recently blue light has been found to increase the ageing changes in the eye which cause AMD.
Wear sunglasses with adequate UV protection (if they are CE marked they are fine) and a wide-brimmed hat. Choose sunglasses which wrap round and provide protection from the sides, above and below to provide maximum protection. This is especially important on water or snow as reflections increase the concentration of damaging rays hitting the eye. Children and people with lighter pigmentation (blue eyes and fair skin) are at a greater risk of sun damage, but we all need to take care.
Research over the past few years has helped provide a clearer picture of what our eyes need for optimum health & vision.
It’s important to maintain a healthy weight so a generally good diet and regular exercise are great starting points. Government guidelines suggest 150 minutes per week of exercise is needed for good general health and we know that regular exercise helps our blood vessels deliver vital nutrients and oxygen to the eyes. Maintaining a healthy BMI helps cut the risk of AMD in half!
Nourish Your Eyes
Nutrition can have a major impact on eye health and vision. It really is true what they say, you are what you eat! Our diet essentially provides the ‘building blocks’ for our body, and there are chemicals, oils & nutrients we need to get from food in order for our eyes to function properly and repair themselves. Without these vital nutrients, cells become damaged and worn out, leading to wear & tear and reduced quality of vision.
a. Clear Focus The focussing lens inside the eye naturally hardens and thickens with age, eventually forming a cataract and causing foggy vision. We know that diabetics tend to be affected earlier, but keeping diabetes as stable as possible helps prevent this. Vitamins A, C, E and Zinc are known to have a protective effect against these changes.
b. Healthy Retina & Nerves Heart disease and obesity have been linked with macular degeneration, and researchers have been thoroughly studying the effects of diet on helping prevent it. Too much alcohol and cholesterol are certainly known to raise the risk of developing AMD, although it has been suggested that one small glass of red wine a day may be preventative due to its antioxidant properties.
Most Ophthalmic consultants recommend a healthy diet with a wide variety of fruit and vegetables for AMD prevention. In particular raw, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables and leafy greens are known to contain the best nutrients for maintaining a healthy macula.
Supplements have been developed specifically to target macular degeneration. There is little evidence to suggest they will really help prevent the disease in most people, but if you decide to take them follow the manufacturer’s advice carefully and consult your GP about using them if you are unsure.
Oily fish also contribute essential oils for good retinal health. The causes of glaucoma are not fully understood but research has suggested that nutrition may help play a role in protecting the optic nerves. Omega 3 oils, Vitamins C and B12 are thought to be beneficial. Gingko Biloba has also been suggested although should be used with caution as it is not recommended with certain medications.
c. Comfortable eyes Most of us experience dry eyes at some point, causing a range of symptoms from mild grittiness, tiredness and stinging to profuse watering. Stay properly hydrated by drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar and sweetener which all increase dryness. Oily fish and flaxseed oil have been shown to help as they increase vital oils in the natural tear film, stabilising the moisture on the surface of the eye & preventing ‘watery’ eyes. Vitamins A, C, E, Zinc and Selenium also help, as does eating red, orange and dark green fruits and vegetables.
Be Kind To Them!
Try to wear your prescription glasses as much as possible, and don’t worry about overusing your eyes: neither of these things will cause you any harm or make your sight worse.
It used to be thought that relying on glasses made your eyes weaker, and we still see many people who try their hardest to resist wearing glasses or contact lenses for fear of making things worse. The good news is we now know it doesn’t cause deterioration, whilst not wearing your prescription can actually lead to eye-strain, headaches and less-than-perfect vision, so there really is no point in trying to force your eyes to work.
People also tend to worry that they will wear their eyes out by using them too much, especially doing fine detailed work. Again there is no need to worry, you might temporarily tire your eyes but you won’t cause any serious long-term damage by using them. If you are doing intense close-work such as reading, needlework or computer work, try and take a break every 20 minutes: this can be as simple as looking at a distant object for twenty seconds (to allow the eye muscles to relax) and blinking.
Use a good focussed light for doing any intense close-work: the nearer you can get the reading lamp, the more help it will be.
Try to avoid drying your eyes out by staring at a computer screen, television or book for too long without blinking. Also try to avoid dry environments, for example avoid having car vents blowing towards your face and try to keep air conditioning and central heating on a low setting. If eyes are still prone to discomfort, dryness or watering, try lubricating ‘artificial tear’ drops to soothe and moisturise them.
Have Them Tested Regularly and Have An OCT!
To keep a check on the health of your eyes, they should be tested at least every 2 years.
During a normal eye test we will check for glaucoma, macular degeneration and numerous other eye & general health conditions. Some eye conditions, such as glaucoma, give no warning signs and the earlier we find them the more we can do to prevent vision loss. Our OCT retinal scan is well worth having regularly as it helps track changes in the retina and nerves at the back of the eye, meaning we can pick up problems like glaucoma even earlier!
Diabetics should have an annual eye test, as should anybody with a close relative that has been diagnosed with glaucoma. Certain medications and medical conditions can also have an effect on eye health, so it is important that you tell us about any general health issues when we test your eyes.
We hope you have found this article interesting. If you have any questions or suggestions please contact us.