It Starts with Diet
Think about a rainbow of colors of fruits and vegetables –
dark leafy greens, red strawberries, and deep dark blueberries to name a few examples – as the building blocks for a healthy life, including healthy eyes. Vegetables like spinach, collard greens, kale, orange peppers, carrots and zucchini are recommended because they contain lutein and zeaxanthin and may protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and decreased cataract development in older women.
Fresh fruits like blueberries, kiwi fruit, grapes, avocados and orange juice may be great for saving your sight. Snacks that are healthy for your eyes include walnuts, Brazil nuts, butternuts, hickory nuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts. Nuts are one of the best sources of plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acids. Although some people are allergic to nuts and must avoid them, they are an easy choice for the rest of us when the need for snacks arises. Try eating them unsalted if you are concerned about sodium intake. And a word of caution: nuts are high in calories so be judicious in the amount you eat. Read the single serving size on the package and try not to exceed it. It will help you maintain your waistline while providing a powerhouse of nutrition.
A diet that contains frequent servings of fatty, cold water fish is also part of building a foundation for healthy vision. Salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, lake trout and mackerel are all excellent choices. Fish and flaxseed oils contain omega-3 essential fatty acids that lower your risk for AMD and may help prevent its development. They also reduce inflammation and discomforts associated with dry eye; and they enhance the absorption of lutein which was mentioned earlier. Oils need to be kept fresh to avoid turning rancid so check the expiration dates, and you might also consider refrigerating them. Discard any oils that don’t smell fresh.
Dietary supplements can be found in many good vitamin and mineral combination tablets that you are taken daily. These are meant to supplement your diet to add back the things you may not be eating on a daily basis. Talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist to see what brand of vitamin supplement is recommended. We should always be careful when taking large supplemental sources of the fat soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K. Taking a lot of one can decrease the absorption levels of the others.
If you follow a diet filled with these healthy choices in foods that are prepared using healthy cooking methods, you will be improving your overall health and well being, as well as protecting and preserving your sight.
Interacting with Your Environment
We all have choices in how we live and interact with our environment; some choices are better for us than others, much like the foods we choose to eat. Choosing to protect your eyes means more than just wearing the contact lenses or glasses you may need for vision correction.
The National Eye Institute states that 2.5 million eye injuries occur each year in the United States, half of them at home. Eye injury is a leading cause of visual impairment in one eye, second only to cataract as the most common cause of visual impairment overall. Wearing protective eyewear is key to the prevention of eye injuries.
The type of eye protection needed depends on your activities:
Working at Home - You should keep at least one pair of approved American National Standards Institute (ANSI) protective eyewear (sometimes called ‘safety goggles’) on hand to wear when doing projects or activities that create the risk of eye injuries. Choose protective eyewear with “ANSI Z87.1” marked on the lens or frame. (This means the glasses, goggles or face shield meets the ANSI Z87.1 safety standard.) ANSI-approved protective eyewear can be purchased at most hardware stores nationwide.
You need to protect your eyes if it involves:
- Using hazardous chemicals or substances that can damage your eyes on contact
- Flying debris or other small particles – for you and any active participants or bystanders nearby
- Projectiles or objects that may break apart and fly into your eyes or the eyes of others nearby
Use common sense, think ahead, and take the time to plan your work, including protection for your own eyes and those of others near you.
When Playing Sports - Sports eye protection should meet the specific requirements of the sports you play; these requirements are established and certified by the sport’s governing body and/or the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
Lifestyle Choices for Healthy Eyes
There are many daily choices you can make to establish, build and live a healthy lifestyle that will not only preserve and protect your eyesight, but bring about a higher quality of life overall. And it all comes from the choices you make in how you spend your time and the habits you allow to be part of your daily life.
Smoking - Apart from the well researched evidence of cardiovascular disease that results from smoking, smoking affects the eyes greatly. In fact, after aging, smoking is the greatest risk factor for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Limiting the exposure to smoke, or stopping smoking, can also reduce dry eye symptoms and prevent or delay cataract development. Don’t smoke; if you smoke now, stop smoking. Your body will recover and become stronger and healthier. Smoking also makes your skin prematurely age.
Exercise – Enough to make you sweat and done at least three times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Exercise is one of the best ways you can improve and enhance your health, and reduce the likelihood of developing AMD - by about 70% for people between the ages of 48-86. Physical activity, done on a regular and consistent basis, reduces the factors associated with AMD such as high body mass index (BMI), white blood cell count, and blood pressure. And, as we age, regular physical activity that builds strength can help prevent injury from falls, one of the dangers that threaten a senior’s ability to remain independent and live in their own home. Walk daily, workout at a gym or at home and keep the exercise varied and interesting so that you don’t get bored and quit. Your heart and brain will thank you, as well as your eyes.
Exposure to the sun - It is good for us, in moderation. Too much exposure to intense sunlight may increase the risk of cataracts and corneal disease. Scientists and eye doctors recommend protecting your eyes from the ultraviolet A and B, and blue light spectrums by wearing wide-brimmed hats when you are outdoors, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Protective glasses or goggles with UV protection should be worn when engaged in snow or water skiing. These help shield your eyes from sunburn and glare.
Annual Eye Exams
Develop a good relationship with your eyecare practitioners because you will most likely be seeing them at least once a year for most of your adult life. You should have confidence in them and find it comfortable to ask questions until you feel satisfied. Eyecare practitioners are often very busy, but they should never be too busy to discuss your case with you and your family members.
Finally, your eyecare practitioner needs your help and your cooperation; they have no control over what happens between office visits so any instructions given should be followed, and any changes or difficulties should be reported at once. Think of doctors as your partners in the care of your eyes but always remember that you are the primary person responsible for your own welfare and wellbeing. If you have doubts about how to proceed, seek a second, independent opinion. If you experience blurring, scratchiness, irritation, itching, watering or any discharge, you should contact your eyecare professional immediately.
Putting It All Together
Caring for your eyes may be one of the best motivators you can have for caring for your whole self – the gift of sight is a priceless gift that we must never take for granted. A healthy lifestyle is the result of making healthy choices in your diet, how you spend your time, the environment in which you choose to live, your attitude towards life, and the habits you choose to develop. It’s all connected and improvements you make in any one of these areas will impact the total level of health you experience.
At the Cornea Research Foundation, we are committed to the goal of giving people back the use of their eyes. You can support our vital research and help us fight the battle against vision loss by making a gift today.