Today, we offer advice on how to help care for the eyes and maintain them in the best possible health, including:
- some possible causes of eye damage – and how to avoid them;
- dry, puffy and tired eyes, along with prevention and treatment;
- digital detox for your vision;
- foods and vitamins that are good for the eyes;
- why contact lenses and glasses may not be the healthiest option.
Eye health is easy to neglect, as most people have good vision that works well, so it is easy to take it for granted. Nonetheless, regular eye examinations (or sight tests) are advisable as part of overall wellness and health checks. Apart from caring for our eyes themselves, a proper eye examination by a qualified optometrist can detect symptoms of underlying health conditions in their early stages and enable timely treatment, before the condition worsens or other more serious symptoms begin to present themselves.
As part of maintaining general eye health, optometrists usually recommend eye examinations every one to two years, depending on age, family and other factors. If you notice any problems or have concerns about your sight, it is always wise to visit your GP or optometrist as soon as possible.
Regular eye tests are particularly important for the over-sixties, people with diabetes or a history of family eye disease. Certain ethnic groups may also require frequent eye tests, as well as individuals who have learning disabilities.
Here are some valuable pointers to look after the eyes:
- Protect your vision from strong sunlight and UV radiation by wearing a pair of sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat – or both;
- Sunglasses should meet optical standards to assure the wearer of distortion-free lenses; look for the CE mark or BS(EN) ISO 12312:2013. Also, do replace old sunglasses that have scratched lenses, as wearing them may cause eye strain;
- As much as possible, eat a healthy diet (please see the section below);
- Aerobic exercise helps to maintain good circulation, thereby reducing the sight loss which is typically associated with a lack of fitness;
- Reduce (or preferably stop) smoking, to reduce the chances of macular degeneration;
- Limit alcohol consumption to moderate levels, i.e. within the medically recommended limits.
What can damage your eyes?
In addition to wearing appropriate sunglasses to protect against ultraviolet rays in sunlight, we also suggest using adequate eye protection to protect the cornea and eyeball from some frequent causes of eye damage through physical injury when:
- Working on gardening and DIY tasks;
- Use safety glasses to keep protruding branches away or when moving soil;
- Beware of facial contact with bacteria-laden pond water; it may harbour a nasty bug that causes corneal ulcers;
- Take extra care with chemicals including strong household cleaning products and garden treatments;
- Playing squash – This may sound funny, but the cornea (the transparent surface on the front of the eye) is only half a millimetre thick and needs protecting from injury with sports glasses;
- Swimming – do wear well-adjusted goggles, with corrective prescription lenses if required. For safety, never go swimming while wearing contact lenses;
- Cycling – think of dust, insects (sometimes large) and road chippings. Use protective cycling glasses; some styles are cool fashion statements too!
Eye health and age
As we get older, presbyopia (or age-related long-sightedness) may cause difficulty reading – particularly with small fonts, when one is tired and at the end of the day. If you wear glasses, it is important to have a sight test to prescribe the correct prescription lenses every two years – or more frequently if your optometrist thinks it necessary. These eye tests are available free of charge on the National Health Service for the over-sixties. Even before one’s sixtieth birthday, it is still wise to visit the optician regularly; eye examinations can detect cataracts, glaucoma, high blood pressure and diabetes, which can lead to diabetic retinopathy (where the retina becomes damaged and consequent sight loss). Similarly, glaucoma may damage the optic nerve; timely intervention helps to prevent ensuing tunnel vision and, possibly, blindness due to lack of treatment.
To maintain fitness, eat well but try to keep to a healthy weight. Exercise to promote good circulation and follow good sleeping habits.
Good lighting helps; at the age of sixty, the eyes need three times as much light to see the same as they did at twenty. Adequate lighting is essential near stairs and for close work too, so do keep curtains widely open and windows clean.
If you notice cloudy vision, this may be due to cataracts and necessitate a consultation with the eye specialist. Conversely, patients who wear glasses and regularly drive at night may want to ask the optometrist for a pair of glasses that has an anti-reflection coating, as this helps to reduce glare.
How to reduce puffy eyes
This condition involves swelling of the sensitive skin that surrounds the eyes and may require specialist attention due to skin disorders such as dermatitis, for example. Simpler explanations include allergies, stress, fluid retention, hormonal changes and crying.
Sometimes, puffy eyes are noticeable after sleeping – especially with an excess of sodium in the diet. Excessive alcohol intake, not sleeping enough and wearing contact lenses may also play a part, along with ageing, poor diet and styes or blepharitis (a bacterial infection of the eyelids).
The treatment for puffy eyes focuses on reducing the swelling by washing with clean, cold water and applying antibiotic eye ointment if prescribed. It may be necessary to deal with any underlying causes such as chronic sleep difficulties, allergies such as hay fever or too much salt in the diet.
Take care to avoid irritants, allergens and alcohol before bedtime. Cooling gel eye masks provide symptomatic relief; eye serums and creams may also help with long-term use. Finally, seek medical attention promptly if there is any swelling, fever, chills, redness around the eye, difficulty breathing or discomfort in the face or neck.
Dry eyes can occur if the tear glands do not produce sufficient liquid if the tear quality changes or if it evaporates too quickly. The disease may present itself due to:
- hormonal changes during menopause, contraceptive pill usage;
- environmental factors such as high altitude, strong wind and bright sunshine;
- prolonged reading or writing. When concentrating, the blink rate often reduces, so natural tear moisture evaporates away more quickly than the eyelids replenish it;
- working on a computer screen – as above;
- conjunctivitis, dermatitis, rheumatoid arthritis and certain other chronic medical conditions;
- the secondary effects of some medications, including antihistamines, diuretics, beta-blockers and antidepressants;
- wearing contact lenses;
Treatment involves relieving the symptoms by treating mild to moderate cases with drops or gels. Ointments can be used overnight, while corticosteroid treatments require specialist supervision. Wearers of contact lenses may wish to consider changing cleaning solutions or using lubricant eye drops that are free of preservatives, limiting the length of time contact lenses are worn or trialling a different type of lens with a higher water content.
Options for other patients include limiting the time spent on visual concentration, wearing sunglasses, keeping the eyes clean and improving the diet.
In pronounced cases, it may be a good idea to consult the doctor or other health professionals to manage the symptoms or check whether alternative treatments or medicines could alleviate the side effects. In severe or extreme cases, surgical remedies involve tear duct procedures or salivary gland transplants.
When tired, particularly at the end of the day, discomfort may be noticeable when trying to focus on nearby objects. Similarly, experiencing eyestrain or squinting because things are out of focus may alert the patient to the reduced focusing of the eye muscles that occurs with age.
The initial solution to prevent eyestrain is a pair of reading glasses. Alternatively, when the condition (presbyopia) has stabilised, corrective laser eye surgery means that the patient may no longer need to wear glasses or contact lenses for certain tasks.
Digital detox for the eyes
The extended use of computers can cause eyestrain or aggravate existing conditions. If you notice headaches, difficulty focusing or discomfort in the eyes while staring at a screen, it is time to adapt the routine and take breaks more frequently. During this time away from the screen, focus your eyes into the distance for a short time then back at the screen again (perhaps on a view outside the window) and make an appointment to consult the optometrist.
As a preventive measure, it is important to have well-lit working conditions – but without light reflecting off the computer screen.
Notably, tablets and smartphones have equalled or superseded conventional television as a form of entertainment; these days, some toddlers are even able to use digital screens before they talk. However, there are health implications – including for the eyes. While it would be unproductive to demonise screen time (which does have its place in education and development), it should not be excessive.
The 20-20-20 rule offers a useful and practical suggestion to limit time spent continuously in front of a computer screen. To find out more about this guideline, as well as some symptoms of digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome (CVS), please see the digital detox for your eyes section. The advice includes how to reduce the risks to healthy sight and of eye disease occurring later in life.
Foods and vitamins that are good for the eyes
Diets that are rich in fruit, vegetables and vitamins A, C and E are very beneficial. It is also sensible to reduce the intake of sugar and saturated fat, while also getting plenty of fibre. Following a healthy diet based on foods and vitamins that are good for the eyes provides our body systems – including our vision – with the fuel and resources needed for the best sight possible, as well as maximum repair and renewal while we sleep.
Why contact lenses or glasses may not be very good for your eyes
If you have experienced contact lens irritation or dry eyes, you may well have wondered whether contact lenses (sometimes known just as contacts) and glasses are the healthiest options for your eyes. They often present complications for people with active lifestyles, especially with sports including swimming.
Many patients consider laser eye surgery as a long-term solution. This gets around the common disadvantages of contact lenses and glasses. With a quick, minor operation to correct the vision, it is not necessary to touch the eyes every day (as when fitting and removing contact lenses), thereby avoiding consequent eye infections. Additional advantages include the freedom and all-round peripheral vision that is simply not possible when wearing spectacles.
Laser eye surgery involves changing the shape of the transparent surface (cornea) at the front of the eye. The special medical laser employs a carefully controlled and safe technique to correct short sightedness, long sightedness and astigmatism.
Some patients may not be suitable for laser vision correction due to reasons such as high prescriptions or thin corneas. These patients may be suitable for alternative lens procedures where an additional lens can be placed in the eye (Phakic IOL) or in older patients their natural lens can be replaced incorporating their prescription as with cataracts surgery, this procedure is known as refractive lens exchange. An expert optician or specialist ophthalmologist will be able to advise fully on your suitability for surgery.
If you would like some further information about laser eye treatment options, please contact us here.