Good eyesight is crucial, but are you doing all you can to protect your vision? Whether you're mowing the lawn, playing racquetball or flying across the country, here's how the experts say to take care of your eyes.
Staring at the small screen
All that time spent using computers and PDAs can lead to eyestrain, dry eyes, and blurred vision. To combat these problems, check your work station: Ideally, your monitor should be 5 to 9 inches below eye level. This brings your lids downward, maintaining the healthiest blink rate, says Susan Resnick, an optometrist in New York City. If you can't move the monitor, measure the distance between it and your eyes, then consult your eye-care professional about the right pair of glasses for that distance, says Dr. Gail Royal, an ophthalmologist in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Also make sure there's no glare on your screen. And obey the 20/20/20 rule: For every 20 minutes of screen time, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to maintain your eyes' focusing system.
Airplane cabin air is very dry, so keeping your eyes moist is important. Direct air vents away from you, and use artificial tears once every hour, suggests Dr. Royal. But avoid drops that reduce red eye, because they constrict blood vessels. If possible, wear glasses during the flight. If you choose to wear contacts, look for a new class of lenses made with silicone hydrogel, a permeable plastic that allows more oxygen to reach the eyes. Resnick often recommends Acuvue Oasys because they have added wetting agents to help keep the eyes moist.
In the sun
Did you know that UV rays can hurt your eyes as much as they hurt your skin? Overexposure can increase your risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and pterygia, little bumps on the whites of the eyes. "Every 15 minutes outdoors—even on cloudy days—adds to the cumulative effect of radiation damage," says Resnick. Make sure both sunglasses and contact lenses are UV-protective. (Even with contacts, though, you'll still need sunglasses to protect the whites of your eyes.) Lenses should cover from the forehead down to the cheek and ideally wrap around the temple region, says Dr. Robin Vann, chief of comprehensive ophthalmology at Duke Eye Center in Durham, N.C.
In the dark
Pupils enlarge at night, so any slight blur on the retina becomes exaggerated. Get a thorough eye exam to make sure you're seeing clearly. When driving, minimize glare by looking to the bottom right of the road, use the night setting on your rearview mirror, and keep your car in tip-top nighttime shape (clean headlights, taillights, signal lights, and windows—outside and in). Also, move your eyes from the road to the dashboard and back again to avoid "highway hypnosis" and maintain a keen sense of depth perception. If you read in bed, make sure the light is bright enough that you can see the words without straining, but not so bright that you get a glare. A 60- or 75-watt bulb is best.
Working up a sweat
Some 325,000 sports-related eye injuries occur every year—many resulting in permanent vision loss. More than 90 percent of those accidents could have been prevented with proper eyewear. Choose protective lenses designed for your specific sport. Look for polycarbonate lenses or a new material called Trivex—both are thin and won't shatter. Check the product's certification seal: It should meet the requirements of the American Society for Testing Materials, which vary for each sport. For outdoor sports, polarized lenses help you see more clearly.
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