It’s easy to take our eyesight for granted. But as eye problems don’t always have painful symptoms, that means things can go wrong without us noticing. To maintain good eye health, we asked Francesca Marchetti, an independent optometrist and councillor for the Association of Optometrists for her 10 eyesight-saving tips:
1 Wear sunglasses
Ultraviolet (UV) rays are a catalyst for serious eye conditions including cataracts, macular degeneration (the macula is an area of the retina, at the back of the eye) and cancer – so sunglasses are important for your eye health, as well as preventing wrinkles. Buy from a reputable retailer to be sure sunglasses give 100% UV protection: look for the CE and British Standard EN ISO 12311: 2013 marks. Vintage sunglasses or cheap holiday or market buys may not be UV-inhibiting and this can be worse for eyes than not wearing them, as your pupils will dilate in the darkness and let more UV rays in. If you have a favourite pair you’re not sure about, an optician may be able to check their UV protection levels and reglaze if necessary. Wear whenever the sun is bright and definitely if it’s a day when you need sun protection on your skin.
2 Start them young
Remember, if you feel the need for shades, your children need them, too. Cataracts, macular degeneration and cancer may seem like age-related conditions but, as with skin cancers, the damage is cumulative and, the more protection you get from a young age, the better.
3 Have regular eye tests
From the age of two upwards, all of us need to have our eyes tested every two years unless otherwise advised – even if you have 20/20 vision. Think of it like going to the dentist. As well as checking vision, an optometrist can identify conditions such as glaucoma, often called the ‘secret thief of sight’ because it exhibits no symptoms until the end stages when the damage is done. Glaucoma is caused by a build-up of fluid and pressure inside the eye which, if untreated, will result in tunnel vision and eventual blindness. An eye test can identify pressure changes at an early stage so the condition can be monitored and, if necessary, halted with eye drops. We can spot early signs of cataracts, macular degeneration, high blood pressure, cancers and diabetes. And we can diagnose easily treatable conditions like dry eye, blepharitis (blocked tear glands that cause inflamed lids) and infections.
4 Eat a rainbow
We need a good supply of antioxidants for eye health, and fruit and vegetables are the best source. Get your fill of dark green, leafy veg, and go for as many bright, colourful pigments as possible. If you have a family history of macular degeneration, it’s important to take a daily supplement that contains the antioxidant carotenoid lutein. Omega-3 essential fatty acids are also important for tear structure.
5 Don’t ignore dryness
One in nine women over 50 has dry eye syndrome, with the biggest cause being digital eye strain, closely followed by not wearing the right prescription. A normal blink rate is 18 times per minute. When you look at a screen, that reduces to just four times. Deprived of the tear film they need, eyes dry out, feel gritty and fatigued. This can affect your vision, general wellbeing and stamina for working. See your optometrist about dry eyes so they can rule out more serious, underlying eye health concerns. They can also prescribe the right treatments, which may include drops, creams or gels.
6 Use the right drops
Avoid eye drops that contain preservatives as they’re a common allergen that can interfere with tear production and make dry eye worse. Look for hyaluronic acid, a natural and effective ingredient, or ask your optometrist for recommendations. Never use drops beyond the expiry date (write the date you open them on the box). Don’t wait for discomfort – if you’re prone to sore eyes, start in the morning and keep yourself topped up all day.
7 Do your desk exercises
The idea you can exercise the eye muscles by performing certain movements is rubbish. What you can do is give them a rest. Get into the habit of having 20/20/20 screen breaks. Every 20 minutes, look at a point about 20ft away, then blink 20 times. Don’t forget that if you use a screen for work, EU regulations mean your employer is legally required to pay for your eye tests.
8 Remember what helps your heart, helps your eyes
I always say this when patients ask me what lifestyle changes will preserve their eyesight. Don’t smoke – macular degeneration is four times more likely in smokers. And take regular exercise, both to keep your circulation healthy and to help you maintain a healthy weight.
9 Stop borrowing other people’s reading specs
Or wearing that cheap, ready-made pair you picked up at the chemist. Yes, they make small print easier to read, but if they’re not your prescription, they won’t be comfortable to use for long. Off-the-peg specs are fine to take a quick look at a label, not for getting stuck into a novel.
10 Buy cheap mascara
That way you won’t mind throwing it away after three months – bacteria can thrive in make-up. Most eye infections are down to poor hygiene. If you’re a lens wearer, never leave them in longer than they’re intended for, clean correctly and wash hands. And remove eye make-up or it’ll clog tear glands, which can result in blepharitis and reflex tears, where eyes water excessively. Massage along the lash line with small, circular motions as you remove your eye make-up.