Top Tips for Healthy Eyes

Featured Article, Healthy Aging, Healthy Living
on October 25, 2011

Our poor eyes. Until something goes wrong with them, we usually don’t give them a second thought. But the truth is, eyes need as much TLC as the rest of our body. Starting at age 40 we need a baseline eye check-up and follow-up exams at least every two years to catch and treat conditions like glaucoma and macular degeneration early. Beyond that? 

Try these tips below from Dr. James J. Salz, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, for keeping your peepers in top shape.

Slip on some shades. Sunglasses aren’t just about looking cool or cutting down on glare. They actually protect your eyes from two conditions caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The first, pterygium, is a thickening of the clear, thin tissue on top of the white part of the eye. Triangular in shape, a pterygium can affect one or both eyes. It’s usually symptom-less but can cause burning, irritation or the sensation that something is in your eye and even affect vision. Symptoms like irritation can be eased with artificial tears. But if your vision blurs, you may need surgery to remove the growth. Cataracts are also a UV-related eye problem. A clouding of the lens of the eye, cataracts are more common as we age and cause symptoms including cloudy or blurry vision, a halo effects around lights, poor night vision and double vision. The good news: Wearing UV-blocking sunglasses whenever you’re in the sun can slow the progression of cataracts.

Down some vitamins. The National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that high levels of antioxidants and zinc could lower the risk for advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by 25 percent. AMD, which slowly destroys sharp central vision, is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 60. There are two types of AMD: Wet AMD is characterized by leaky blood vessels that damage the eye’s macula, in the center of the retina, which lets you see fine detail. In people who have dry AMD, light sensitive cells in the macula break down.   

The specific formula recommended in the AREDS study consists of 500mg of Vitamin C; 400 international units (IUs) of Vitamin E; 15mg of beta carotene (the equivalent of 25,000 IUs of Vitamin A); 80mg of zinc as zinc oxide; and 2mg of copper as cupric oxide. The formulation is widely available. (Make sure the label says it’s the AREDS formula.) “I take these vitamins myself because my father had AMD and there’s a tendency for it to run in families,” says Salz, clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “There’s no proof it will prevent the disease but it probably isn’t going to hurt you.”

Make peace with technology. Computers. Smartphones. Blackberries. E-readers. All that high-tech reading strains and tires eyes. A recent study published in the Journal of Vision found that constantly viewing mobile and other stereo 3-D devices could trigger eye discomfort, fatigue and headaches.

What to do? To prevent computer eyestrain, position your monitor about 20 to 24 inches away from you with the top of the monitor level with your eyes. If the monitor’s too close, your eye muscles have to work harder to bring your eyes close together to focus. To minimize computer screen glare, turn off overhead lights, close blinds or invest in a glare screen.

For computers and other high-tech devices, bump up the font size when possible so you don’t have to squint see what you’re reading. Give your eyes a break every few minutes by looking off into the distance. “When you do that you eye muscles relax,” says Salz. And make a conscious effort blink regularly. We forget to blink when we use the computer and other high-tech devices and that dries eyes.

Wear protective eyewear. Whether you’re sanding furniture, doing carpentry or playing sports, goggles or sports glasses will keep airborne flecks of wood and metal and runaway tennis or racquet balls from injuring your eyes. Cyclists need protection too:  Cycling specs will shield eyes from bugs and flying debris

Snuff the cigarettes. Smoking increases the risk of cataracts and AMD. “Quitting is not only good for lungs and general health, but also it is very important for eye health,” says Salz.