If you have 20/20 vision (score!) or wear glasses or contacts regularly to correct your vision, you might assume you’re doing everything right to protect your eyesight.
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But developing a few additional healthy habits now may pay off for your vision down the road.
As you get older, your risk of developing some of the most common causes of blindness, including cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, goes up.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and protect your vision long-term.
Get your vitamins
Research supports that a number of nutrients can help protect vision, says optometrist Kristi Stalker, OD. They include:
- Vitamin A. This antioxidant is essential to the vision process and helps protect the surface of the eyes. A deficiency can cause night blindness and, eventually, blindness. Many animal-based foods are high in vitamin A, including liver, oily fish and cheese, but your body can also produce vitamin A from carotenoids found in vegetables like sweet potato, leafy green vegetables and carrots.
- Vitamin C. Found in many fruits and vegetables including broccoli, grapefruit, strawberries and oranges, this antioxidant helps lower the risk of developing cataracts.
- Vitamin E. Studies have shown that vitamin E may slow vision damage from AMD. You can get it from sunflower seeds, nuts, avocado and plant oils.
- Lutein. Lutein, found in high quantities in leafy green vegetables, is thought to filter harmful blue light that enters the eyes and limit damage to the retina.
“I wouldn’t recommend that people take the high-dose vitamins for macular degeneration unless they actually have the condition, but I do think that taking a multivitamin or making sure you eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is very important,” Dr. Stalker says.
Mind the sun
Many people are diligent about applying sunscreen before they go outside to protect their skin — and you should be just as diligent about protecting your eyes.
Excessive UV exposure can damage the front and back of the eyes and contribute to a number of problems that lead to vision loss, including cataracts, macular degeneration and eye cancers. Choose a good-quality pair of sunglasses that wrap around your eye area, and make sure the lenses provide 100% UV spectrum protection.
Follow the 20/20/20 rule
Staring at a computer, smartphone or tablet screen for hours every day strains your eyes (computer vision syndrome is a real thing). “We recommend taking a 20 second break every 20 minutes to look 20 feet away,” Dr. Stalker explains.
“This is to relax your eyes and let yourself blink, because we find that people don’t blink nearly as often when they’re looking at a computer screen.”
Blinking lubricates the eye, so not blinking can make your eyes feel dry. Dr. Stalker recommends using over-the-counter eye drops four times a day if dry eyes cause you discomfort.
See an eye doctor on the regular
Make a visit to an eye doctor part of your annual preventive care routine — and not just to find out whether your glasses prescription has changed. With a comprehensive eye exam, doctors can detect early signs of eye diseases like glaucoma and AMD that might not yet be causing you any symptoms. These conditions are better treated early to minimize or slow vision loss.
Plus, your eyes can hold clues about other aspects of your health. Sometimes, signs of serious conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can affect your eyes in ways that an optometrist or ophthalmologist can see during a routine exam.
So just because your eyes aren’t bothering you now doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Take these small steps now to manage your screen time, sun time and nutrition, and your eyes will thank you.