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10 Tips to Protect Your Vision and Prevent Blindness

 

If you’ve never had a vision problem, you probably don’t give your eyes much thought. And you may not be aware of the changes that occur as you age, some of which can drastically affect the way you see, or even lead to blindness.

The good news is that even small preventive measures, like wearing sunglasses and eating vegetables, can help protect your eyesight and prevent future vision problems.

Here is a list of 10 eye facts that will help you protect your eyes and your vision for years to come.

1. What you eat is important to the health of your eyes. Eating right is the number one way to take care of your eyes, says Rebecca Taylor, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Nashville Vision Associates in Tennessee and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. She also recommends that you try to get your nutrients from food: “Eat vitamins instead of taking them.”

What should your eye-healthy plate look like? Pretty much like any good, healthy food. Dr. Taylor starts with a big spinach or kale salad topped with brightly colored vegetables. Leafy green vegetables provide the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown to help reduce the risk of eye disease, notes the AAO. And the vitamin A found in bright yellow and orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes improves eye health, according to the National Institutes of Health. Adding fruits like strawberries, oranges, and mangoes provides vitamin C and other antioxidants that Taylor says also help fight eye disease. She also includes salmon or other cold-water fish in her ideal meal, as the omega 3s are good for tear production, which relieves dry eyes.

2. Comprehensive eye exams find vision problems early. Getting a regular eye exam is the only way to detect a variety of problems, such as glaucoma or diabetic eye disease, ensuring that you receive timely treatment. Most people with vision problems should see their ophthalmologist once a year to make sure their vision hasn’t changed.

For the rest of us, the AAO recommends the following eye exam schedule:

At 40: an initial eye exam
From 40 to 55: an eye exam every 2 to 4 years
Ages 55 to 64: One eye exam every 1 to 3 years
Age 65 and older: One eye exam every year
During the exam, your doctor will take your family history and check your pupils, central vision, color vision, and eye pressure. He or she will also dilate, or widen, your pupil using special eye drops to see the back of your eye to check for any damage.

3. Smoking now can cause eye problems later. “Stop tobacco in any form,” says Taylor. When you smoke, cyanide from the smoke enters your bloodstream and can destroy cells in your eye. Smoking puts you at higher risk of developing cataracts and increases dry eye problems. It also increases the risk of macular degeneration, an incurable condition that destroys vision in the center of the eye, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

4. You can help preserve your sight by protecting your eyes from the sun. Taylor recommends two eye protections: sunscreen and sunglasses. The skin around the eyes is some of the thinnest on the body and is susceptible to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Various types of skin cancer, such as carcinoma and melanoma, can form on the eyelids and around the eyes, causing significant damage to the structure of the eye.

Sunglasses are also a must, according to Taylor. But don’t be fooled into thinking the darker the better. “It’s the sticker you remove from the glasses when you buy them” that matters, she says. Sunglasses must have 100 percent complete protection against UVA and UVB rays (long and short wave). UV radiation stimulates the problems caused by both cataracts and macular degeneration, common causes of blindness.

5. Working on a computer all day can cause dry eyes. This is partly because when we’re doing things up close, we don’t blink as much, says Taylor. Paradoxically, one of the most common symptoms of dry eyes is a watery eye, says Steven Loomis, OD, of Roxborough Park, Colo., president of the American Optometric Association. Breaking down the oily, mucus layers of the eyes prevents tears from evaporating, and the eye compensates by producing more water, he says. Having “tired eyes” at the end of the day is another symptom.

Dry eyes can also be caused by:

Inflammation
Certain medications, including antidepressants
Hormonal changes due to aging
For treatment, try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away for 20 seconds toward something at least 20 feet away, recommends the Mayo Clinic. A warm compress is another simple treatment, Dr. Loomis says, as are artificial tears, but not “redness remover” ones, as they can restrict blood to the tear glands. If these treatments are not effective, your doctor may prescribe a product such as Restasis (cyclosporine) to reduce inflammation.

6. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. The best way to avoid diabetic retinopathy, the most common cause of blindness in the United States, is to prevent diabetes, if possible. Nearly all patients with type 1 diabetes develop this eye condition, as do about 60 percent of those with type 2 diabetes.

In diabetic retinopathy, the tiny blood vessels in the retina are damaged. Although there are no symptoms during the early stages of the condition, it is vitally important to detect retinopathy as early as possible through regular eye exams. Over time, your vision can become blurred and lead to blindness. Controlling blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol can prevent the disease from getting worse, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Diabetic retinopathy can be treated with laser surgery, which can reduce the risk of further blindness. However, treatment cannot repair vision that has already been lost.

7. After age 60, macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness. Macular degeneration occurs when eye tissue degenerates, causing blurred vision or loss of vision in the central part of the eye. There are two forms of macular degeneration: wet and dry. If vision loss is caused by fluid in the retina, the condition can be treated with injections into the eye. But most forms are dry, for which there is no treatment.

Risk factors for macular degeneration include a family history of the condition, smoking (which damages blood vessels in the eye), a lack of lutein and zeaxanthin in the diet, and not protecting the eyes with sunglasses.

8. Cataracts are common, but treatment is very effective. Cataracts are a relatively normal part of the aging process and usually begin to appear around the age of 60. Symptoms can include blurred vision, washed-out colors, glare, reduced night vision, and double vision. Cataracts are associated with exposure to UV rays or radiation therapy, such as cancer treatment. Taking certain medications like prednisone can also increase your risk of cataracts, says Loomis. But cataract treatment, which includes replacing damaged lenses with good ones, is often very effective, she adds.

9. Damage to the optic nerve of the eye causes glaucoma. This common eye condition, says Loomis, is known to be silent and insidious. She often tells patients that the first sign of glaucoma is when a person can no longer see. Glaucoma is not something a patient can prevent or treat on their own, and the only way to detect it is through an eye exam, according to the NIH.

Glaucoma occurs when pressure builds up in the eye and begins to damage the optic nerve. The condition progresses very slowly, Loomis says, and it can take years for the nerve damage to become severe enough to cause vision problems.

The risk of getting glaucoma is higher for people who have a family history of or are diabetic, says Loomis. For most patients, treatment includes an eye drop once a day that lowers the pressure in the eye. If the drops fail, surgery may be an option.

10. Your eyes reveal a lot about your health. The old saying goes that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but Taylor says they can also act as an indicator of a person’s overall health. If a patient comes to her office with dry eyes, she asks other health questions, since dry eyes can be a marker for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or thyroid disease. Patients who have blurred vision may have diabetes or a tumor, or may have had a stroke. People with itchy red eyes may have a contact lens allergy they are unaware of. Taylor also recently diagnosed multiple sclerosis in a patient who had unusual eye movements.

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