Our world is dominated by the visual and digital. We increasingly interact with one another through screens – tablets, phones, e-readers and PCs, not to mention the screens that we encounter at airports, train stations, cinemas, in the pub, home and work. They dominate our lives and this in turn generates problems – glare, light conditions, focus and concentration, which previous generations were not exposed to. Nine out of ten adults admit to suffering symptoms of ‘screen fatigue’, including eyestrain and problems with close and long-distance vision, according to the Eyecare Trust.
Did you know that 30% of adults are spending more than nine hours a day using a digital device? Also 30% of parents allow their kids to experience more than three hours of screen time each day, despite the concerns they have about the possible effects.
We have gathered the best advice, and latest thinking, to update you on the best ways to safeguard your eyes and eyesight. But it is not all about electronic gadgetry – long-established advice on smoking, diet and protection from the sun still hold true.
Some type of sight threatening eye problems affects one in six adults aged 45 and older. And the risk for vision loss only increases with age. So regular checks (and simple everyday steps) will safeguard your eyes and can help pick up other health problems early.
By following these 10 steps you can maintain healthy eyes well into your golden years.
1. Keep Screens at a Distance
The contrast and the glare from an electronic screen can eventually lead to eyestrain and other symptoms, headaches, blurred vision, neck pain, dry or red eyes, fatigue, double vision, and difficulty refocusing.
Some of the trouble is caused by things we can’t consciously see. What we interpret as a steady onscreen image is a trick of the mind. Older screens have a refresh rate, so the image is constantly updating and our eyes can struggle. Modern LCD screens are easier on the eyes and usually have an anti-reflective surface. Select a screen with the highest resolution possible. Choose a display with a dot pitch of .28 mm or smaller. Adjust the text size and contrast for comfort, especially when reading or composing long documents.
As you age, the closer you are to an object when you read it, the more work your eyes have to do to maintain focus – and that induces strain. It is recommend that you maintain a distance equivalent to an arm’s length when working at a computer screen and at least 16 inches from a handheld device – like a phone or tablet. If you can’t easily read the text from that distance then simply increase the font size.
Lighting is important. Make sure that you are reading in soft light, without reflection or glare, and position your computer so that your eyes are level with the top of the monitor. This allows you to look slightly down at the screen.
Every 20 minutes, rest your eyes by looking 20 feet away for 20 seconds. At least every 2 hours, get up and take a 15-minute break.
2. Blink more often
In everyday life, we blink about 15 to 20 times a minute. But that rate drops by half when we’re viewing text on a screen. As many adults (and kids) spend around nine hours a day looking at screens, this can be a problem.
Blinking is important because the upper eyelid spreads tears over the front of the eye, or cornea, just like a windshield wiper. If you don’t do it enough, the cornea can dry out and feel irritated.
Use the 20/20/20 rule when staring at a screen: every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds so you can blink naturally and give your eyes time to relax. If this is still not enough then use lubricating eye drops.
3. Visit Your Optician Regularly
The older you get the more important this is. Eyesight can deteriorate rapidly in the elderly, so ensure you have a comprehensive eye test once a year – without fail. Eye exams can also find some eye diseases, such as glaucoma, diabetic eye disease and age-related macular degeneration that often have no warning signs.
Remember, it’s not just your eyes. What seems like an eye problem can be a symptom of many medical conditions. For instance, dry eyes can be symptomatic of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or thyroid disease. Blurry vision could indicate diabetes or a tumour, or a stroke. Unusual eye movements can indicate early multiple sclerosis.
Anyone with symptoms or a family history of eye disease, diabetes or high blood pressure should see an optician to determine how frequently your eyes should be examined. Even if you have no signs of eye disease, it makes sense to get a baseline eye test at age 40—the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to occur.
4. Wear Shades
Sunglasses are a must, even in our climate. Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light for prolonged periods can seriously damage your eyes and in some cases it is responsible for causing retinal burning, blindness, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, or AMD (loss of sight in the centre of the field of vision), and noncancerous and cancerous growths on the eyes’ surface and particularly on the eyelids.
UV levels are at their highest between 10am-2pm so plan accordingly. Remember, not all sunglasses are equal. When buying sunglasses look for the CE standard mark, and the British standard mark (BSEN 1836:1997).
Sunglasses are not just for warm weather; UV rays can be just as harmful in cold climates with heavy snowfall, as snow reflects up to 80% of the sun’s natural UV light, which can cause snow blindness.
Another easy mistake is to assume that the darker, the better. Check carefully, sunglasses should have complete, 100% protection from UVA and UVB (long and short wave) rays.
If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, it’s a good idea to get sunglasses with lenses that are polarized, which means that they’ve been treated to reduce glare.
5. Eye Protection
Practice workplace eye safety. Employers are required to provide a safe work environment. When protective eyewear is required as a part of your job, get into the routine of wearing the appropriate type at all times and encourage your co-workers to do the same.
However, it’s not just the workplace where eye protection is important. In the USA of the 2.5 million eye injuries that Americans suffer annually, nearly half happen at home.
Common sense tells you that safety glasses or goggles are vital when using power tools. But we should also wear them for jobs around the house. And it’s not just the obvious ones – sawing, sanding, drilling, nailing. Some jobs like cleaning the oven use hazardous chemicals that will damage eyes on contact.
Playing sport, gardening and cleaning – all should be examined for the potential to cause eye damage. If you suffer from dry eyes then consider investing in a humidifier to control air quality. This, combined with lubricating eye drops, will help to protect your ocular surface from irritation and dryness.
6. Don’t smoke
No ifs and butts on this one. As well as your heart and lungs, smoking destroys eyesight. It’s yet another very good reason to quit.
Smoking is directly linked to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Studies show that current smokers and ex-smokers are four times more likely to develop AMD than people who have never smoked. Smokers are also at increased risk for developing cataracts. Studies show that only 15% of smokers are concerned about the impact of smoking on their eye health.
In addition to this, a smoker’s risk of developing cataracts goes hand in hand with the number of cigarettes smoked – those who smoke heavily are likely to develop more severe cataracts.
When you smoke, cyanide from the smoke gets into your bloodstream and can destroy the eye’s cells. So stop now.
7. Watch your alcohol units
Drinkers don’t get away with it either.
Although drinking in moderation is not a problem, heavy drinking and alcohol abuse can lead to a toxic, progressive optic neuropathy (optic atrophy), which can cause visual impairment and damage to the optic nerve cells.
This damage leaves colours appearing washed out or, in severe cases, a loss of vision. It is advised that men drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week and no more than 4 units in one day. The recommended alcohol intake for women is no more than 14 units per week and 3 units in one day.
8. Eat Healthily
Protecting your eyes starts with the food on your plate. Omega-3 fatty acids not only bolster heart and brain health, but also they can also decrease your risk of eye disease. Fish are a great source. Women who ate canned tuna and dark-fish meat (mackerel, salmon, sardines, bluefish, swordfish) just once a week have a 42% percent lower risk for AMD than those who ate such fish less than once a month.
Fish oils and fish-oil supplements are loaded with antioxidants that help prevent the damage from free radicals that can cause diseases like AMD. They also support a healthier tear film.
Vitamin deficiency can impair retinal function, so a diet that is rich in vitamins C and E, lutein and zeaxanthin—pigments found in dark, leafy greens, broccoli, courgettes, peas, and Brussels sprouts will help improve vision. Eggs, nuts, beans, and other non-meat protein sources are great for the eyes too. Vegetarians have a 30% lower risk of developing cataracts than people who ate 3.5 ounces of meat a day.
By regularly eating foods that are rich in protective nutrients and antioxidants you can help maintain good eye health and potentially prevent some troubling eye conditions such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.
9. Weight control and Exercise
It might seem strange, but maintaining a healthy weight can affect your eyes. The reason is that being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes, leading to diabetic eye disease or glaucoma. Any programme of exercise, even moderate walks, will help maintain a healthy weight. Research at the University of Wisconsin revealed that people who exercise regularly are 70% less likely to develop a degenerative eye disease such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).
Your eyes can expose tell-tale symptoms of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or diabetic retinopathy, all of which can be caused by being overweight.
Other conditions that have been linked to obesity are Cataracts, Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH), Thyroid Eye Disease (TED) and Exophthalmos.
10. Eye and Contact Lens Care
Approximately 85%t of those who wear contacts claim that they’re caring for their lenses properly, but only 2% really are. One of the most harmful but common infractions is moistening contacts with saliva instead of saline solution. This can introduce hundreds of bacteria directly to your eye, which could cause a serious infection. Using saliva or water as a wetting solution, using expired solutions, and using disposable contact lenses beyond their wear can result in corneal ulcers, severe pain and even vision loss. Always store lenses in fresh solution.
To keep your contacts and their case bacteria-free, wash your hands before handling them and replace contacts as frequently as prescribed.
For women care needs to be taken with make up. Eye make-up has a use-by date for a good reason. Kept for too long, these products can become breeding grounds for harmful bacterial that cause conditions such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelid.
Bacteria can thrive in mascara, so replace it after three months. Putting liner inside the lash line can block the oil glands, which protect your eyes’ surface. Eye shadow and liner need to be thrown away after a year.
There is of course no guarantee that taking these steps will ensure perfect vision throughout your lifetime. But maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and having regular eye exams, will certainly decrease your risk of developing a sight-stealing eye problem that otherwise might have been prevented.
More than a third of us skip eye exams because we’re concerned about the cost. Paycare policies explicitly list optician’s costs for a reason – we know how vital it is to maintain good eye health throughout life.