Ten Steps to Healthy Eyes

Making subtle changes to your lifestyle can help improve your eye health and minimise your risk of developing common eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.

To help you keep your eyes in peak condition the Eyecare Trust and HealthSure have produced a ten step guide to healthy eyes:

1. Eat right for good sight

Eating a healthy balanced diet can reduce your risk of developing common eye conditions. Eye friendly nutrients found in many fruits and vegetables including spinach, red peppers, kale, leeks, avocado, peaches and blueberries can help to protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – a condition that impairs the vision of more than 600,000 people in the UK and is the leading cause of blindness in the western world.

Cold water fish such as sardines, mackerel and tuna are all excellent sources of DHA and Omega-3 fatty acids, which provide structural support to cell membranes in the eye and are recommended for dry eye, the treatment of macular degeneration and general sight preservation. Recent research has shown how eating fish just once a week can reduce your risk of developing early AMD by up to 40 per cent.

2. Exercise regularly

The eyes need oxygen to stay healthy and comfortable. Growing scientific evidence suggests that aerobic exercise can increase crucial oxygen supplies to the optic nerve and lower pressure in the eye.

Reducing intraocular ‘eye’ pressure can help control conditions such as glaucoma and ocular hypertension. Aerobic exercise can also prevent the progression of diabetes, which in severe cases can lead to diabetic retinopathy.

To gain any health benefit from exercise the Department of Health recommends doing 30 minutes exercise five days a week. Brisk walks, cycling and swimming are all excellent ways to reduce intraocular pressure.

Remember to consult your GP before commencing any new exercise programme.

3. Get a good night’s sleep

A good night’s sleep can help keep your eyes feeling bright and refreshed. Lack of sleep and fatigue can lead to your eyes becoming sore, irritated, puffy, red and bloodshot.

A quick fix for relieving your eyes from any discomfort caused by lack of sleep is to place a cold compress – wet tea bags, slices of cucumber or a cold wet facecloth – over your eyes then lie back and relax for ten minutes.

4. Quit smoking

Smokers have a significantly higher risk of eye disease than non-smokers. According to research published by the RNIB smokers are twice as likely to loose their sight in later life than non-smokers.

Tobacco chemicals damage the blood vessels behind your eyes and increase your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

However, the good news is that if you quit smoking your risk of developing AMD begins to decline. Smoking is also associated with other eye diseases including cataracts.

5. Use goggles to protect your eyes

According to the British Safety Council, nearly a quarter of a million of us will injure our eyes this year with almost 50 per cent of these injuries occurring as a result of accidents in the home. A staggering 20,000 eye accidents a year – one every 25 minutes! – are as a direct result of DIY. Whilst sport is now the biggest cause of hospital admission for serious eye injuries in the UK – one in three squash players will suffer some form of eye injury.

And, believe it or not, the most common skiing injury is not to legs or arms – but to eyes! It’s not flailing ski sticks that pose the threat either, but high levels of ultra-violet (UV) light that can enter and burn your eyes, even on cloudy days. UV levels are highest when the atmosphere is very clear – such as on the ski slopes and the problem is made worse by snow which reflects light. Using goggles to protect your eyes when you’re in a situation that poses a risk to your eyes can help prevent injury and keep your eyes healthy.

6. Limit the amount of alcohol that you drink

Drinking too much alcohol interferes with your liver functions reducing the levels of glutathione an efficient antioxidant that can help protect against common eye disease. The Department of Health advises that men should not drink more than three to four units of alcohol per day, and women should drink no more than two to three units of alcohol per day.

7. Protect your eyes against the damaging affects of UV light

Excessive exposure to the sun’s UV rays can lead to a sunburn-like condition called photokeratitis. This can be extremely painful and make your eyes red, swollen and watery. The symptoms of photokeratitis – an inflammation of the outer layer of the cornea, typically occur after 6 – 12 hours exposure and will normally clear up quickly causing no permanent damage to the eye.

However, the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) are cumulative and over a long period your risk of developing cataracts and other age-related conditions increases significantly. By the age of 18 more than half-a-lifetime’s worth of UV light will have been absorbed by a child’s eyes so it’s never too early to start protecting your eyes.

Ensure that your sunglasses filter AT LEAST 99 per cent of UVA and UVB light and look out for the CE or BS EN 1836:1997 marks when choosing your sunglasses.

8. Watch your weight and maintain a healthy BMI

Maintaining a healthy weight helps to preserve macular pigment density which, in turn, helps to protect the retina against the breakdown of cells and the onset of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Studies in the US have shown how people with higher body mass indexes tend to have low pigment density and therefore are at greater risk of AMD.

Damage to blood vessels in the eye caused by excess body weight has also been linked to the onset of glaucoma and diabetes. Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to both adult men and women.

To calculate your BMI simply divide your weight in kilogrammes by your height in metres squared.

BMI Results

Underweight = <18.5

Normal weight = 18.5-24.9

Overweight = 25-29.9

Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

9. Drink plenty of water

The human body is made up of 70 per cent water. Water is essential to the normal working of the body and for keeping your eyes healthy. Dehydration can lead to dry, sore and irritated eyes. The Food Standards Agency recommends that you drink approximately 1.2 litres (6-8 glasses) of water every day and more when you exercise or if the weather is hot.

10. Have regular eye examinations

The Eyecare Trust recommends that you have an eye examination once every two years unless advised otherwise by your optometrist. An eye examination will not only detect problems with your vision but it can also uncover a number of other underlying health problems. An eye examination really is an essential healthcheck and helps to keep you and your eyes healthy. For further information about a range of eye-related matters and eye conditions look out for optician practices displaying the Eyecare Information Centre logo or visit the Eyecare Trust website www.eyecare-trust.org.uk.

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