Most of you probably agree that keeping an eye on your health is important. After all, you are reading an online publication called LIVING HEALTHY. But are you vigilant about maintaining the health of your eyes? You may be surprised to find out how much your weight, fitness and nutrition play a role in the health of your eyes and vision.
We all love seeing the results of our dedication in the gym, so we interviewed Dr. Rachel J. Bishop of the National Eye Institute and the National Institutes of Health to educate our readers about this topic.
What she has to say is truly eye opening—sorry, I just couldn’t resist.
LH: What can we do in the gym to help our short-term or long-term eye health?
Dr. Bishop: Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to long-term eye health. Exercise plays a major role in staying healthy. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes and other systemic conditions, and can lead to vision-threatening complications such as diabetic eye disease. If you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, talk to your doctor.
LH: We have all heard our parents tell us to eat carrots because they are good for our eyes; so, is this really true? And along that line, are there other foods that we should be eating more of to promote healthy eyes and good vision?
Dr. Bishop: The vitamin A in carrots helps eyes function well, but carrots are just one important food. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables—particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard greens—has been shown to promote healthy eyes. Research has also revealed benefits to the eyes from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut.
LH: What are some of the common things people do that may harm their vision?
Dr. Bishop: Smoking. Many people don’t know that smoking is as bad for your eyes as it is for the rest of your body. Research has linked smoking to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataract, and optic nerve damage, all of which can lead to vision loss.
Not wearing protective eyewear. Thousands of Americans suffer preventable eye injuries each year from playing sports or doing activities around the home, such as mowing the lawn, without wearing appropriate eye protection. Protective eyewear includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards. Most protective lenses are made of polycarbonate, which is both lighter and 10 times stronger than other plastics. These can be purchased in optical shops, hardware stores, and sporting goods shops.
Not wearing shades. Sunglasses are a great fashion accessory, but their most important job is to protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Look for ones that are labeled as blocking 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation. They don’t have to be expensive to be effective; many cost only a few dollars. A wide-brimmed hat also helps protect the eyes from UV damage.
Not cleaning contact lenses properly. To avoid the risk of infection, always wash your hands thoroughly before putting in or removing contact lenses. Be sure to disinfect contact lenses as instructed and replace them as appropriate.
Not practicing workplace eye safety. Employers are required to provide a safe work environment. When protective eyewear is required as a part of your job, make a habit of wearing the appropriate type at all times and encourage your coworkers to do the same.
LV: How can we offset some of the eye-related problems that are associated with age?
Dr. Bishop: By the time you reach your 40s, there’s a good chance you will notice your vision changing. Perhaps if you’ve never worn glasses before, you will need them to see up close. Or if you’ve always worn glasses to see clearly at a distance, you may have to remove them to focus up close, or switch to multi-focus eyeglasses. These changes are a normal part of aging, and you should meet with an eye care professional to discuss the best way to optimize your vision.
In addition, by the time you reach 40 you should have a complete, dilated eye exam by an eye care professional to screen for eye diseases. The most common eye diseases have no early warning signs, so you won’t know your eye is being damaged until the disease is more advanced, and the success of treatment might be lower. These include glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, and age-related macular degeneration—all treatable conditions. By the time you reach your 60s, you may notice some glare in the setting of bright lights, or have trouble distinguishing colors. This could be due to cataract, a common change of the eye which happens when we age and can be treated with outpatient surgery.
As you age, you are at higher risk of developing age-related eye diseases and conditions. Normal aging changes should not stop you from enjoying an active lifestyle or maintaining your independence. In fact, most adults can look forward to maintaining excellent vision throughout their life, provided they make eye exams part of their regular health routine.
LV: What are some common myths associated with our eyes and our vision?
Dr. Bishop: Myth—Reading in dim light is harmful to your eyes.
Fact—Although reading in dim light makes your eyes feel tired, it is not harmful.
Myth—If you need eyeglasses, your eyes are not healthy.
Fact—Wearing eyeglasses has nothing to do with eye health, but rather with normal changes in parts of your eyes.
Myth—Never sit too close to the TV.
Fact—There is no scientific evidence that sitting too close to the TV is bad for your eyes.
Myth—You can wear out your eyes.
Fact—Eyes do not wear out. You can use them as much as you want.
Myth—There is no need to check your eyes until you are in your 40s and 50s.
Fact—Eye problems can affect people of all ages.
LV: How often should we get our eyes examined, and beginning at what age?
Dr. Bishop: Pediatricians screen children for normal eye development beginning at birth, and continue to follow them through adolescence with regular vision screenings, referring any decrease in vision or eye concerns to an eye care professional. If you haven’t had any reason to be examined by an eye care professional by the time you reach your 20s, we recommend you get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at that time, and again in your 30s. At age 40, everyone should have a dilated eye exam, at which point your eye doctor will tell you how often you should be examined in the future. By age 60 or 65, most people should be getting eye exams every year or two.
Of course, you should see an eye care professional right away if you ever notice a change in your vision or other problem with your eyes.
LV: What type of exams should we be inquiring about with both our personal physicians and eye-specialists?
Dr. Bishop: You might think your vision is fine or that your eyes are healthy, but visiting your eye care professional for a comprehensive dilated eye exam is the only way to really be sure. When it comes to common vision problems, some people don’t realize they could see better with glasses or contact lenses. In addition, the most common eye diseases often have no warning signs, so a dilated eye exam is the only way to detect them in the early stages, when they are most treatable.
During a comprehensive dilated eye exam, your eye care professional places drops in your eyes to dilate, or widen, the pupil to allow more light to enter the eye. It’s similar to the way an open door lets more light into a dark room. This procedure enables your doctor to examine the back of the eye for any signs of disease. Your eye doctor is the only one who can determine if your eyes are healthy and if you are seeing your best.
LV: Is there anything else that you would like to inform people about in regards to the health of their eyes?
Dr. Bishop: With our active, busy lifestyles, it can be easy to take good vision for granted. Yet when surveyed, Americans indicated that they value good vision above all other senses, and would even rather lose a limb than lose their eyesight! Most vision loss is preventable. If you incorporate these tips into your daily routine and maintain a healthy lifestyle, chances are good that you can enjoy great vision throughout your lifetime.
For more information about Healthy Vision visit http://www.nei.nih.gov/
SUBSCRIBE today to get all of our LIVING HEALTHY updates! CLICK HERE to learn how.