Want to keep your peepers in tip-top condition as you get older? Experts reveal the best ways to prevent damage naturally
Sight is one of our most fundamental senses, but it is easy to take for granted. Arguably, our vision is as strained as ever in our fast-paced world spent mainly indoors, filled with screen-time. This can contribute to the development of eye conditions, which intensify as we age. Changes in our sight can be quite gradual – for example, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can cause the loss of central vision over a prolonged period of time, causing your sight to become increasingly blurry. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent damage…
Upgrade your diet
We all know that a balanced diet is important to maintain health, but what you choose to eat also has a big impact on the performance of your eyes.
A range of nutrients can protect against eye diseases, as Poonam Patel from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) explains: “For some people with age-related macular degeneration, it has been shown that antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, as well as zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin can help to slow down the condition’s progression.” President of the British Association of Dispensing Opticians, Fiona Anderson suggests eating green vegetables, like spinach, kale and collard greens which are packed with carotenoids. “Consider eating more foods high in vitamin A such as sweet potatoes, winter squashes, lettuce and dried apricots, too,” she adds. “Get a double hit of vitamins A and C with spinach, carrots, tomatoes and red peppers, while vitamin E can be found in nuts, avocados and olive oil.
“Fish that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut and sardines reduce the risk of developing eye disease, and protect against macular degeneration and cataracts,” she adds.
For some people, it may be worthwhile taking supplements to ensure that they are consuming enough of these vitamins and minerals. Fiona advises: “If you have an eye condition such as AMD, speak to your GP or optician/optometrist before taking a supplement. Some studies have indicated that people with a poor diet may benefit from doing this.”
Prevent strain and infection
Every day activities also take their toll on the health of our eyes, but don’t worry – there are many simple steps that can help prevent damage to your sight. Optometrist Henry Leonard from the Association of Optometrists suggests taking regular breaks when working: “Focusing on something close up for too long can cause tiredness, eyestrain and headaches, even if you have normal sight. Look away from your computer screen at regular intervals and focus on something in the distance. Don’t forget to blink either – this helps prevent your eyes from drying out.”
In today’s society full of mod cons, many adults suffer with dry eyes which can cause visual problems and extreme discomfort. “Eyes become dry, tired and sore if you are not producing enough tears or if you have poor-quality tears,” explains Henry. “Central heating, air-conditioning and using computers can make it worse. Lubricating eye drops can soothe irritation and reduce discomfort, and you may find that taking omega 3 supplements can help over time. Drink plenty of water, too. If your eyes are persistently dry, tell your optometrist. No matter the condition of your eyes, you should have a sight test at least every two years.” Other every day measures you can take to ensure the health of your eyes include removing all traces of make-up before you go to sleep, which prevents infections, and massaging overworked eyes to relax them and prevent strains.
Pick up healthy habits
Being overweight contributes to a range of conditions that can negatively impact the performance of your eyes. Poonam explains: “People who are overweight are more likely to develop health conditions, including diabetes. One of the serious complications of this disease is diabetic retinopathy, which causes damage to the tiny blood vessels at the back of your eye. Changing levels of blood sugar can also cause your vision to become temporarily blurry, and may cause the early onset of cataracts.”
Staying a healthy weight is beneficial for your blood pressure and cholesterol too. Poonam describes how high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels increase the risk of a blood vessel at the back of the eye becoming blocked, known as retinal vessel occlusion. “This condition can seriously affect your vision – in some cases, permanently,” she says. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can also increase your risk of stroke. If this occurs in the part of the brain which processes sight, then your vision may be affected. Poonam also raises an important connection between smoking and the risk of developing AMD, which is often overlooked: “The link between smoking and AMD is as strong as the one between smoking and lung cancer.”
We are all savvy about the risks of exposing skin to UV light, but the effects it can have on your eyes are not widely acknowledged by the public. “UV light can speed up the ageing process in the eyes, increasing the risk of developing age-related eye problems like cataracts and macular degeneration,” explains Fiona Anderson. “Make sure you wear sunglasses whenever possible, and look for the CE mark to ensure that your eyes are adequately protected. Speak to your optician about UV filters what are now available for prescription glasses – materials such as Trivex and polycarbonate block 99.8 percent of UV light.”
National Eye Health Week 2017 takes place from 18-24 September – visit visionmatters.org.uk for more information.
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