Until you find yourself having to deal with an eye problem, like dry eyes or cataracts, it can be all too easy to neglect your eye health.
Though, taking steps to keep our eyes healthy is incredibly important – not only to maintain eyesight but to take care of our overall health too.
With this in mind, we’ve partnered with one of the UK’s leading eye care specialists, Boots Opticians, to bring you nine ways to keep your eyes healthy.
1. Eat a healthy diet full of nutrients known to boost eye health
What we eat plays a major role in how well our bodies function – including our eyes.
Studies have revealed that eating a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other eye conditions. AMD is a common condition that affects the central part of your vision (not the peripheral). The exact cause of AMD is currently unknown.
According to research, some of the most beneficial nutrients when it comes to eye health include vitamin A, C, and E, zinc, fibre, and omega-3 fatty acids. So, a diet rich in fatty fish, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean protein, whole grains, and plenty of fruit and vegetables is a good place to start.
Carotenoids (fat-soluble pigments) like lutein and zeaxanthin have also been shown to have eye-protecting properties. Eggs, dark leafy greens, and yellow-fleshed fruits like mangoes and apricots are particularly good sources of carotenoids.
On the other hand, processed foods and foods high in saturated fats have been shown to have a negative effect on eye health. For example, this study found that diets high in saturated fat were linked with an increased risk of macular degeneration.
You can find more advice on how to eat for your eye health on the Boots UK website.
2. Wear good-quality sunglasses
While we’re all aware of the importance of protecting our skin from UV rays, it’s just as important to protect our eyes. In fact, according to Boots Opticians, our eyes are actually up to 10 times more sensitive to UV damage than our skin.
Overexposure to UV rays can damage eyes and lead to a range of conditions such as cataracts, pterygium, and AMD. And the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 10% of cataracts may be caused by overexposure to UV radiation from sunlight.
Just like sunscreen helps to protect the skin by reflecting UV rays, sunglasses work by reflecting rays away from your eyes. Boots Opticians advises that sunglasses should have the right amount of UVA and UVB protection and meet international standards.
All sunglasses sold by Boots Opticians meet these requirements – and you can on their website. If you wear glasses, it’s possible to get prescription sunglasses too, which can be purchased by visiting any Boots Opticians store with a valid prescription.
3. Take regular screen breaks and rest your eyes
Screen fatigue can make your eyes uncomfortable for a number of reasons.
Using a screen or computer for long periods of time can be demanding on our eyes and potentially lead to our eyes feeling dry and uncomfortable.
It’s great to practice the 20 20 20 rule to help relax your eyes when using computers (20 seconds break from the screen, every 20 minutes, looking at something 20 feet away).
It is important to think about regular blinking to help prevent eyes from feeling dry as we tend to blink less often when staring at a screen.
It is also important that patients are wearing the most up to date prescription and that they are wearing the correct type of spectacles/contact lenses as recommended by their optician.
4. Go for regular eye tests
According to research, more than 75% of cases of vision loss are preventable if caught early. Because many eye conditions show no symptoms in the early stages, having regular eye tests can help to identify them as soon as possible.
Plus, during eye exams, optometrists have a close-up look at your optic nerves, blood vessels, and other complex eye structures and may detect a number of underlying health conditions which also play a role in eye health, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Boots Opticians offer everything from general eye tests to contact lens checks and advanced eye scans. To book an eye test, head over to the Boots Opticians website.
5. Quit smoking
Most of us know that smoking is bad for our lungs and heart. But a lesser-known fact is that tobacco smoke is also harmful to vision and eye health.
In fact, smoking is a high risk factor for many eye issues, including AMD, cataracts, glaucoma, dry eyes, and optic nerve problems.
According to experts, you’re twice as likely to develop AMD and two to three times more likely to develop cataracts if you smoke, compared to people who don’t smoke.
Quitting smoking is the only way to prevent and potentially reverse these smoking-associated risks to your eyes. This study found that elderly people who’d quit smoking 20 years previously had the same risk of developing AMD than those who had never smoked.
If you want to quit smoking and would like some support, head over to the stop smoking services on the NHS website.
6. Use other eye protection where appropriate
As well as sunglasses, there are various other forms of protective eyewear that can make a huge difference to eye health.
It’s particularly important to wear protective eyewear if you take part in activities that increase your risk of eye injury. For example, if your job involves working with chemicals, wood, or metal shards.
Various sports, such as football, netball, hockey and racket sports like tennis can increase the risk of eye injuries too and if you’re playing sports outside, it is important to protect your eyes from UV rays. We suggest speaking to your Optician about your sporting activities, so they can advise you on your individual needs.
7. Make lifestyle changes to lower or regulate your blood sugar levels
Maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce your risk of developing diabetes, which is one of the biggest threats to vision and eye health, because it increases the risk of retinopathy. Retinopathy is a condition where high blood sugar (a common symptom of diabetes) causes damage to blood vessels in the retina (the light sensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye).
According to statistics, within 20 years of diagnosis, nearly all people with type 1 and almost two-thirds of people with type 2 diabetes have some degree of retinopathy.
Therefore, taking steps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of diabetes is one of the best things you can do for your eye health. Opticians also recommend those who have diabetes to regularly have their eyes examined to monitor eye health closely.
For help doing so, you might like to have a read of our articles; 12 science-backed ways to lower (or regulate) blood sugar levels and Type 2 diabetes – what are the warning signs and how can I reduce my risk?
8. Practise good eye hygiene and keep contact lenses clean
Contact lenses come into direct contact with your eyes, which means that any bacteria transferred to them by your hands also touch your eyes.
The most common eye infection associated with wearing contact lenses is bacterial keratitis – where the cornea (the clear, dome-shaped window of the eye) becomes infected.
For this reason, if you wear contact lenses, it’s important to clean them properly and frequently, using the correct lens-specific method as recommended by your Optician. Similarly, make sure that you thoroughly wash your hands before inserting or removing contact lenses, or any other time you touch your eyes.
Boots Opticians has a useful list of dos and don’ts for contact lens wearers to protect eye health and reduce the risk of infections. If you wear makeup, you might find Boots Opticians’ makeup tips for contact lens wearers helpful too.
That being said, regardless of whether or not you wear contact lenses, practising good eye hygiene is important for overall eye health.
9. Consider whether any eye conditions run in your family
Some eye health conditions are hereditary. And while a hereditary risk doesn’t mean you’re destined to develop the same problems, being aware of your risk can help you to take precautions.
Glaucoma, amblyopia (lazy eye), retinal degeneration, and AMD are among the most common eye health problems that run in families. For this reason, it’s important to tell your eye doctor about any eye conditions that your parents or grandparents have had.
Other risk factors worth considering include age, sex, and ethnicity. According to research, people who are over 60 or are of African, Latino, Asian, or Caribbean heritage have an increased risk of eye conditions.
Taking care of our eye health is hugely important – not only for sight, but for our general wellbeing too. The good news is that there are plenty of simple, yet effective ways to help keep your eyes healthy.
For further advice on how to keep your eye healthy or to book an eye test, head over to the Boots Opticians website. Alternatively, you can visit a store near you.
What steps do you take to keep your eyes healthy? Will you be putting any of these tips into practise? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.