By Mark Siegel, MD, FAAO
In honor of the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s May monthly observance, I’d like to remind everyone of the importance of taking care of your eyes.
Your eyes are an important part of your health. There are many things you can do to keep them healthy and make sure you are seeing your best. Follow these six simple steps for maintaining healthy eyes well into your golden years.
Have a comprehensive dilated eye exam. 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, many common eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, and age-related macular degeneration often have no warning signs. A dilated eye exam is the only way to detect these diseases in their early stages.
During a comprehensive dilated eye exam, your eye care professional places drops in your eyes to dilate, or open, the pupil to allow more light to enter the eye the same way an open door lets more light into a dark room. This dilation enables your eye care professional to get a good look at the back of the eyes and examine them for any signs of damage or disease. Your eye care professional is the only one who can determine if your eyes are healthy and if you are seeing your best.
Know your family’s eye health history. Talk to your family members about their eye health history. It’s important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with a disease or condition since many are hereditary. This information will help to determine if you are at higher risk for developing an eye disease or condition.
Eat right to protect your sight. You’ve heard carrots are good for your eyes. But eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard greens, is important for keeping your eyes healthy, too. Research has also shown there are ocular benefits from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes and other systemic conditions which can lead to vision loss from diabetic eye disease or glaucoma. If you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, talk to your doctor.
Don’t smoke. Smoking not only increases your risk of cancer and lung, cardiovascular and brain disease, but it also increases the risk of damage to your eyes. Smoking damages blood vessels that can reduce blood flow to your eyes resulting in “strokes” of the retina and optic nerve. It also increases one’s risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, progression of cataracts and possibly glaucoma.
Wear protective eyewear. Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home. Protective eyewear includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards specially designed to provide the correct protection for a certain activity. Most protective eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate, which is 10 times stronger than other plastics. Many eye care providers sell protective eyewear, as do some sporting goods stores.