It’s reckoned six million people in the UK are living with sight-threatening conditions or uncorrected refractive error (eg: short-sightedness), whilst three quarters of us report experiencing problems with our eye health in the last 12 months.
Even near-normal vision, where you may not have recognised your vision is impaired, can have a tangible influence on your quality of life; impacting things like education, employment, child development, your mental health, and functional capacity in older people, increasing the risk of falls/hip fractures and the need for community and social care.
So, to mark National Eye Health Week, which takes place 21 – 27 September, David Cartwright, optometrist and chairman of the charity Eye Health UK shares his ten top tips to help you keep your eyes and vision healthy.
WHAT PUTS ME AT INCREASED RISK OF SIGHT LOSS?
There are some factors that can increase your risk of poor eye health and vision impairment.
Things you can change…
- UV protection
- Time spent outdoors
Things you can’t change…
- Family history
While you can’t change these factors, it makes it even more important to have regular eye
examinations once every two years (unless advised otherwise by your optometrist). This is important even if you think your vision is perfect as early detection of common eye diseases is vital to prevent avoidable sight loss.
Take a look at the Change4Life website for some quick, easy and healthy recipe inspiration.
- Eat right for good sight.
Most of us have no idea that what we eat can affect how well we see, however, eye-friendly nutrients found in many fruit and vegetables as well as fatty acids derived from fish, nuts and oils can all help protect your sight.
These are just some of the foods that are rich in nutrients beneficial for your eye health…
Cold water fish like cod, sardines and tuna are excellent sources of DHA, and Omega-3 fatty acids. These provide structural support to cell membranes and can be beneficial for dry eyes and maintenance general eye health.
Blueberries and grapes contain anthocyanins, which may help with night vision.
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale are rich in carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin.
Lutein, meso-zeaxanthin and zeaxanthin form a yellow pigment that helps protect the macula – a tiny yellow spot in your retina – from excessive sun damage by acting as a natural sunblock.
Whole grains and avocados are rich in Vitamin B. Deficiency in complex B Vitamins may increase your risk of cataracts and retinopathy.
Papaya is a good source of beta carotene which can help to prevent ‘free radical’ damage inside the eye.
Eggs are rich in cysteine, sulfur, lecithin, amino acids and lutein. Sulfur may protect the lens of the eye from cataracts.
You should also ensure your alcohol intake is within Department of Health and Social Care recommended limits.
2. Quite smoking
Smokers are up to four times more likely to lose their sight than someone who has never smoked. Toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the delicate surface and the internal structure of the eye. This can lead to an increased risk of many eye conditions including age-related macular degeneration (AMD); nuclear cataracts; thyroid eye disease; dry eye and poor colour vision.
For help to quit smoking visit: https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree
3. Watch your weight
More than half of all British adults are overweight however maintaining a healthy weight helps preserve macula pigment density, which in turn, helps protect the retina against the breakdown of cells and the onset of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the UK’s leading cause of sight loss.
Damage to blood vessels in the eye caused by excess body weight has also been linked to glaucoma.
Studies show that people who are overweight have a low pigment density in the macula, the part of the eye needed for sharp central vision; this means the eye has less natural protection and is at increased risk of AMD.
Protect your peepers: Keep your waist to no bigger than 37in if you’re a man and 31.5in if you’re a woman.
4. Get fit
Being physically active has been shown to reduce your risk of visual impairment by 58 per cent versus somebody with a sedentary lifestyle.
Aerobic exercise can help increase oxygen supplies to the optic nerve and lower any pressure that builds up in the eye. Reducing intraocular ‘eye’ pressure can help control conditions such as glaucoma and ocular hypertension.
5. Cover up
Exposure to UV light can increase your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration. According to the World Health Organisation UV damage is the biggest modifiable risk factor of cataract development.
Always wear sunglasses when the UV index rises above three and check your sunglasses filter AT LEAST 99 per cent of UVA and UVB light. Look out for a CE or British Standard or UV 400 mark when choosing your sunglasses as this indicates they provide adequate
6. Be screen smart
On average we spend a staggering 35 hours a week staring at a computer screen so it’s no surprise that 90 per cent of us say we experience screen fatigue – tired or irritated eyes, blurred vision, headaches and poor colour perception.
Avoid eye strain by following the 20-20-20 rule, especially if you’re using a computer for long periods of time. Look 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
7. Go outdoors
Spending time outdoors can give your eyes a boost and actually reduce your risk of short-sightedness (myopia). Increasing the time children spend outdoors is a protective factor for myopia onset and this is thought (at least in part) to be because it increases the intensity of light the eye is exposed to.
A recent review combining the results of 25 studies found that children who spent about an extra hour and a quarter per day outdoors reduced their risk of developing myopia by half.
8. Cosmetic clean-up
Germs can build up on your make-up palettes and brushes which in turn can lead to eye infections and irritation. Make sure your regularly wash all brushes and sponges and check the ‘period after opening’ (POA) time on your cosmetic products – look out for an egg timer or open jar symbol on cosmetic packaging for advice on how long you can keep a product after opening. 6m = six months
9. Get protected
Every year in the UK 30,000 people suffer a DIY related injury. Always wear good quality safety glasses when doing jobs around the house. Eye injuries are commonly caused by flying wood chips or metal particles when drilling, chiselling and sanding.
Having regular eye tests is the most important thing you can do to keep your eyes and vision healthy. Did you know that your optometrist can spot signs of eye disease like glaucoma, years before you notice a change in your vision.