You may think that losing your eyesight is something only your grandmother has to worry about, but the lifestyle choices you make now can directly affect your vision in the near future, says Joanna Fisher, M.D., chairperson of ophthalmology at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Philadelphia. "Practicing just a few healthy habits can dramatically lower your risk of common eye conditions such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye disorder that causes blindness and affects 1.8 million Americans over age 40." Here’s how to safeguard your vision for a brighter future.
1. Shield your eyes.
Wearing sunglasses can reduce your exposure to eye-damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays up to 18-fold. These rays speed the development of cataracts, an age-related clouding of the lens that affects vision, as well as AMD, a disease in which the gradual deterioration of light-sensitive cells in the macula (the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail) leads to vision loss. What’s more, blue light, a portion of the light spectrum that makes the sky and water appear blue, can also damage eye cells. Choose sunglasses with 99 to 100 percent UV protection, and opt for yellow or amber lenses, which filter out blue light. The best styles fit close to your eyes and wrap around the sides so rays can’t leak through.
2. Kick those butts.
Smokers are up to four times more likely to develop AMD than nonsmokers, and up to twice as likely to get cataracts. The reason: Toxins in cigarette smoke can enter your bloodstream and damage blood vessels in the eye, says Sheri Rowen, M.D., director of ophthalmology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Over time, these blood vessels weaken and won't function correctly. For help in quitting smoking, visit americanlegacy.org.
3. Give your contacts a break.
If you sleep in contacts that are for daytime use only or keep two-week disposables around for a month, you're asking for trouble: Dirt and bacteria can become trapped between the contact and your eye and cause irritation and infection. "It's like wearing a condom and never taking it off," says Rowen. Yuck! It's fine to sleep in contacts designed for continuous wear for the doctor-recommended number of nights. But your eyes need oxygen and rest, so remove contacts when you're supposed to (check the package for lens-specific instructions) and clean them properly to dodge vision problems.
4. Keep an eye on the scale.
Excess weight is linked to hypertension, high cholesterol, and inflammation, all of which can slow blood flow to the eyes, says Fisher. In fact, women with a body mass index — a measure of body fat based on height and weight — of over 30 have a higher risk of developing cataracts, according to a recent study. The good news: Walking just 30 minutes a day, four times a week, can help guard against all of these health concerns by improving circulation and aiding in weight loss.
5. Pick up some produce.
Women who ate three or more servings of fruit daily reduced their risk of AMD by 36 percent, according to an Archives of Ophthalmology study. Experts say this benefit is due to lutein and zeaxanthin: These antioxidants, found in many fruits and veggies, absorb harmful UV rays in the eye and play a key role in maintaining optimal eye function. To load up on lutein, eat leafy greens such as spinach and kale; yellow corn, persimmons, and orange bell peppers are all high in zeaxanthin.
Dry eye relief
If your eyes feel so dry and itchy that it's hard to focus, you may have dry eye syndrome.
Everyday hormonal fluctuations, or those due to perimenopause or a thyroid condition, can cause dry eye or aggravate symptoms. Other culprits include taking antihistamines and prolonged computer use. To combat dry eye, keep eyes lubricated with over-the-counter artificial tears. If hard work is to blame, take a five-minute break from staring at your computer once an hour. And if none of these tactics help, see your doctor to determine the underlying cause.