When you can’t see clearly, it’s hard to accomplish all your goals. Start your year out right by learning a few fundamental ways in which you can protect and maintain your eyesight and eye health. Here is to 20/20 vision in 2020!
1. Always wear full UV protection outdoors.
Even in the winter! All seasons can have exposure to sunlight but in the winter the snow reflects UV rays causing double the exposure. This includes babies and children of all ages. Most of our UV light damage to the eyes happens before the age of 18! UV light contributes to cataracts, macular degeneration and sunburned eyes! Did you know that there are many brands of contact lenses that now have UV protection? And many of our clear prescription lenses come with full UV blocking coatings too.
2. Have your eyes examined yearly.
Have your eyes examined yearly or at least every two years, starting as young as 6 months old! Even if you don’t wear any glasses or have blurry vision, there are eye health conditions that can be devastating if not caught early. For young children this may be retinoblastoma, for healthy adults it could be melanoma of the eye, and at any age retinal defects and glaucoma can be silent (no symptoms) but vision threatening! Optometrists go to school for 7-8 years to understand how your eye health relates to your complete eye health. We don’t just prescribe glasses!!!
3. Eat nourishing foods.
The best foods for your eye health are actually leafy green vegetables. Spinach, kale, and broccoli are the richest vegetables in lutein and zeaxanthin, two of the most important antioxidants in keeping your eye tissues healthy. Some other more commonly known healthy foods for the eyes are carrots, oranges, eggs, and fish. If you struggle to incorporate a lot of these foods into your diet, consider talking to your optometrist about vitamins you could take.
4. Avoid smoking.
Cigarettes and cigars and any tobacco products may contribute to eye health problems. Smoking can contribute to cataract and macular degeneration development, increase the risk of diabetic retinopathy and optic nerve problems, and may inflame symptoms of dry eye. Even being around people that smoke can contribute to ocular allergies and dry eye.
5. Wear proper eye protection.
Professions like welding, mechanics, carpentry, and cleaners are at the highest risk for job-related eye injuries. The most common foreign body removed from the eye is metallic fragments that can rust and cause scarring to the eye. Safety glasses (especially foam backed) are critical in preventing these microscopic particles from wrecking havoc on your eye. Proper precautions should be taken when using chemicals as well, to prevent harmful splashes into your eye.
6. If you ever have a red eye, see your optometrist!
A lot of people assume a red eye is an infection and they go see a family doctor to get antibiotics. But there are SO many other causes of redness to the eye that may be misdiagnosed without an optometrist using a microscope (called a slit lamp) to examine the internal and external structures of your eye. Viral, bacterial and allergic inflammation can cause a red eye, but so can more serious inflammation, like iritis! The eyes are truly the windows to the rest of your body health, so it’s important for timely and accurate diagnosis and treatment! Most optometrists have same-day appointments for situations like this.
7. Remove your makeup.
Remove your makeup at night and keep your eyeliner off of your ‘waterline’. Eye makeup can build up and block important oil glands that are in your eyelids and open into your ‘waterline’. With blocked or poorly functioning oil glands, our tear film covering our eyes gets disrupted and can cause symptoms of burning, dryness, irritation, and watery eyes. If you have these symptoms, see your optometrist for diagnosis and treatment of your oil glands.
8. Clean your eyelids and eyelashes.
Everyone should clean their eyelids and eyelashes on a routine basis. We have natural flora (bacteria) on our skin and all over our body, including our eyelids. Sometimes an overgrowth of the bacteria can cause irritation and inflammation to our eyelids (called blepharitis). Using lid wipes to gently scrub the eyelid margins (base of your eyelashes) on a routine basis will help to clean off your dead skin cells and remove any excessive bacteria, preventing inflamed eyelids, styes, and bacterial infections. This includes you, men 🙂 And just splashing water on your face or using the shower is usually not enough to clean the eyelids.
9. Protect your eyes during sports.
Small balls used in squash, floor hockey, lacrosse, even badminton birdies and hockey pucks, can be devastating to the eye ball during a trauma. Face shields and safety glasses are critical to prevent orbital bone fractures, internal bleeding of the eye, and retinal detachments, especially in these types of sports. There are multiple styles of safety frames that will work for any sport, even under a helmet!
10. Trust your symptoms and promote your own health.
Sometimes we see patients with unusual vision symptoms or symptoms that don’t seem to match with any sort of signs we can find. Having patients that can advocate for their health and know something isn’t right, really helps us as optometrists to run more tests, get a second opinion, and follow your condition more closely. There are some rare conditions out there that cause unusual signs and symptoms in the eye / visual pathway, and sometimes they take awhile to diagnose, so be patient and persistent until the mystery is solved!
11. Allow children to explore.
Allow your babies and children to explore their environment through movement, play, and self exploration. Use of electronic devices in children has been shown to hinder cognitive development, which includes visual development. Electronic devices may be the easiest way to entertain your children, but building blocks, playgrounds, and puzzles are way more conducive to developing strong visual and cognitive skills – which go a long way for academic, athletic and social growth.
12. Take breaks from near based work.
Take breaks from near based work. Our eyes as humans were intentionally designed to work best at far distances (for things like hunting), with the ability to change focus at nearer things with effort (or focus). Our eyes were not designed to sustain focus all day long, and as a result of the introduction of electronic devices like computers, game boys, and phones, our visual system is truly experiencing the most amount of stress it has ever been faced with. So give your eyes breaks from near work, often. Look into the distance at least every 15-20 minutes to relax your eye focus. Keep near devices at a health working distance, and make sure to use good lighting and posture. Near based relaxing glasses can be prescribed by your optometrist to help reduce eye strain when having to work on computers / desk work for long periods of time.
13. Drink lots of water.
It is true that water a very important molecule that the body NEEDS to survive! Dehydration can play a factor in the tear film, causing changes in your tears that will give symptoms of burning eyes, irritation, or dryness. Drinking lots of water will also help to remove toxins from the body that may also contribute to eye health degeneration.
14. Blink more!
The introduction of electronic devices has induced the epidemic of ‘the stare’… where our eyes do not blink near enough as they should because we are staring at our screens all the time. The blink is truly an important feature of the eye, which helps to replenish the tear film over the front surface off the eye, that allows us to have a clear surface to see through. If we don’t blink enough, our tear film will evaporate, and our eyes will be left with a ‘foggy windshield’ to look through, causing blurred vision, and dry eye symptoms. There are neat little ‘blink software’ programs you can install on your devices if you need a reminder!
15. Eliminate sources of visual discomfort.
Fluorescent lights, glare from natural light, excessive brightness from screens, are all sources of visual discomfort for a lot of people. Having natural lighting over fluorescent lighting is usually more visually comfortable, as long as there isn’t excessive glare from windows or shiny surfaces. If you feel your workplace has a lot of visual stress triggers, encourage your workplace to do an assessment of the sources of discomfort and ask your optometrist for suggestions to improve your comfort with either tints, overlays, or dry eye treatments. Light yellow tints help many computer users reduce their eye strain.
16. Make sure your overall general health is good.
Make sure your overall general health is good. Untreated conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are a few of the most common conditions to affect your eye health (in North America). Since your eye is filled with many vessels that provide it with nutrients and help to remove toxins / waste, the health of these blood vessels are critical in providing you with good and long lasting vision. Blocked blood vessels, thick and sugary blood, and high pressure in the blood vessels can all cause significant vision-threatening damage. Please make sure you are having regular physicals with your family doctor and are staying up to date with eye exams as well.
17. Wear your contact lenses properly!
I’m sure all of us (or most of us!) change our underwear regularly, because it’s just gross thinking about wearing a dirty pair! But somehow people put no thought into dirty and over-worn contact lenses! Our vision is a precious sense, and by abusing contact lenses, the risk for irreversible damage is heightened. Daily contact lenses should be used only once, never slept in, and always thrown out after each use. Monthly contact lenses should be thrown out after 30 days as the material starts to break down the first day it touches your eye, and if over worn can reduce the oxygen that your eye receives and can cause a inflammatory response making your eye potentially reject wearing contact lenses all together. And NEVER EVER EVER use WATER to store or clean your contact lenses. Using water is a high risk for a visually devastating parasitic infection.
18. Exercise frequently.
Our eyes rely on the circulation of blood to be healthy and exercise improves circulation to all organs. By providing the eyes with healthy oxygenated blood, and removing cellular waste / toxins, our eyes have the best chance of remaining healthy for the long term. Some eye diseases, like glaucoma and macular degeneration, have been shown to have reduced progression in individuals with healthy exercise habits.
19. Know your family history.
Many eye health conditions have genetic links, like macular degeneration and glaucoma. Ask grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents about their eye health history, and let your optometrist know what runs in the family. This helps us to be more cautious in looking for certain conditions, as early detection and treatment is key for most of these conditions.
20. Get enough sleep!
Getting enough closed eye time is important for your eyes to relax (from focusing), for your brain to relax (from processing vision), and for your eyes to re-moisturize (from being open all day). Sleeping with your eyes closed is critical! Some people sleep with their eyes partially open, which can lead to dryness and inflammation due to the skin of the eye drying out. See your optometrist if you think you’re having issues / symptoms from sleeping with your eyes open.
Dr. Pennifold completed her Bachelor of Science in Immunology and Infection from the University of Alberta and her Doctor of Optometry degree from the University of Waterloo.
She then established Jagare Ridge Vision Care in 2019 with the goal to bring comprehensive, modern and accessible eye care to families, with a special interest in vision development and vision therapy & rehabilitation. Jagare Ridge Vision Care is located in Edmonton, Alberta.