We take our vision for granted – until we lose some or all of it. It’s possible to lose your vision (temporarily or permanently) through common eye conditions, including cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration. Understanding how to keep your eyes healthy is important, especially as you age.
Here’s how your eyes change with age and how it can affect your health and quality of life:
- In your 40s, a condition called presbyopia makes it harder to see things close up, such as reading text in print or on the computer. That’s why reading glasses become so common in middle age and beyond. Some people choose to use bifocal glasses or multifocal contact lenses.
- Over time, you need more light to see better.
- A condition called dry eye becomes more common with age (although it also has grown among younger people recently due to excessive screen time). With dry eye, your eyes don’t make enough tears, or the tears they make are of poor quality. Tears help to lubricate the eye surface. Dry eye can feel irritating or can cause blurry vision.
- Chronic conditions like diabetes become more common with age. Diabetes can cause diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema, both of which can affect your vision.
- Cataracts, or a clouding of the lens, become more common with age. However, cataracts can be easily removed through surgery.
- Eye conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration also become more prevalent over time.
- Glare may become a bigger problem. Because of changes in the way that light enters your eye over time, you may notice more glare from things like headlights from cars or the sun on windshields.
Despite these common eye problems, there are some things you can do to help preserve your vision and keep your eyes healthy as you age. Here are six tips to maintain your eye health.
1. Get Regular Eye Exams
Eye exams are sometimes the only way to detect a problem with your vision. That’s because certain conditions, such as glaucoma, have no symptoms until you’ve already lost some vision. Adults should have a comprehensive eye exam at age 40, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. From there, your eye doctor can let you know how often you should have your eyes checked. If you already use contact lenses or glasses, you probably see an eye doctor regularly. As an adult, you should see an eye doctor before age 40 if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of eye disease.
Starting at age 65, most seniors should have an eye exam every one to two years.No matter what your age, if you have diabetes, your eye doctor will also likely recommend eye exams every year or two to check for diabetic retinopathy. Otherwise, you may not notice signs until you’ve lost a good portion of vision.
2. Wear Sunglasses Regularly
Sun exposure increases the risk of both macular degeneration as well as cataracts. This is because light from the sun may change the function of lens and retina cells, according to Johns Hopkins University. Look for sunglasses that protect against both ultraviolet-A and ultraviolet-B wavelengths.
3. Quit Smoking
Smoking raises your risk for macular degeneration four times higher compared to nonsmokers. This applies even if you quit smoking up to 20 years ago, Johns Hopkins University reports. Smoking also increases the risk for a whole host of other eye problems, including:
- Diabetic retinopathy (if you have diabetes)
- Dry eye
- A type of inflammation called uveitis
Talk to your doctor about ways to quit. You can also call 800-QUIT-NOW to get connected to smoking cessation resources in your area.
4. Take Breaks While Using Screens
We all spend a lot of time on electronic screens nowadays, be they smartphones, tablets, or computers. These screens can strain your eyes and make conditions like dry eye worse. When using screens, take a break every 20 minutes to look at something about 20 feet away. Continue this vision break for about 20 seconds, the National Institute on Aging recommends.
5. Eat Right
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that our eyes are part of our overall body health and not isolated. Your eyes are affected by what you eat and drink, and that’s why a healthy, balanced diet also can benefit the eye. For better eye health, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends eating foods like:
- Carrots and oranges. These and other orange-colored produce items are rich in vitamin A, which is important for the function of the retina.
- Cold-water fish like salmon and tuna. These are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which help tear function and may cut down your chance of developing eye diseases.
- Kale, spinach, and other leafy greens that are full of lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin help to maintain a healthy macula. The macula is responsible for central vision and is the area of the area where macular degeneration can develop.
- Tomatoes, strawberries, and other food rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C, along with other antioxidants, can potentially stave off or delay the development of age-related eye diseases.
6. Move More
Believe it or not, regular physical activity can improve your eye health. In fact, studies find that exercise can help prevent many common eye diseases, including glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. Regular exercise can help to lower intraocular pressure (which is related to glaucoma) and also improve blood flow in the eye.
Exercise can help you to manage chronic conditions like diabetes, so you also reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy. Federal guidelines currently recommend 150 minutes of moderate heart-pumping activity a week. That breaks down easily into 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Or, you can break that into even smaller chunks, such as a 10-minute brisk walk after each meal.
Final Thoughts on How To Keep Your Eyes Healthy
For many people, visual degradation will occur naturally, no matter what you do, but if you’re trying to keep your eyes healthy, the process is fairly straight forward. Get checked regularly, just like you would for your teeth or an annual physical and outside of that, do what makes logical sense. Wearing sunglasses or taking a break from screens should be obvious, and in reality, they are obvious strides in how to keep your eyes healthy, but knowing what is smart and actually doing what is smart is another thing.
Just like wearing sunscreen if you’re participating in outdoor activities or putting on a helmet if you are riding a motorcycle, stick to these safety precautions and you’ll run a great chance of keeping your eyes healthy as you age.