Tips for Good Eye Health
Regular check ups Get your eyes tested every two years even if you think your vision is fine. Some eye conditions such as glaucoma may not give symptoms in the early stages, and may cause irreversible damage, so regular check-ups are vital.
Kick the habit Smoking is directly linked to blindness. Smokers are up to four times more likely to develop macular degeneration compared to past smokers or non smokers.
Maintain a healthy diet Studies have shown that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, especially those containing vitamins C, E, lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc (found in leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli, as well as carrots and peppers) can help to protect against common age related vision problems such as cataract and macular degeneration. Studies have also shown that omega 3 fatty acids (found in chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, edamame beans, kidney beans) can help to protect against dry eye conditions.
Sun protection Long term UV exposure can increase your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration. It is therefore important to protect your eyes with a good pair of sunglasses when it’s sunny or when you’re in high glare areas such as near snow or water. Look out for the CE, UV 400 or British Standard marks when buying sunglasses.
Regular Exercise This is not only essential to staying fit and healthy, but also contributes to maintaining good eye health.
Common Eye Conditions
Cataracts are formed when the clear lens inside your eye becomes cloudy or misty. This is a normal part of the ageing process, although can sometimes occur in younger people if they have an injury to the eye, have diabetes or take certain medications such as steroids. If the cataract gets to the stage where it affects your sight, and your vision can no longer be improved with glasses, your optometrist may refer you to a hospital to have surgery. The surgery is carried out under a local anaesthetic and has a very high success rate.
Can I prevent cataracts?
Although cataracts are a natural ageing process of the eye, their development can be accelerated by smoking, exposure to UV light, poor nutrition, obesity and high alcohol intake. Changes in diet and lifestyle can therefore help to reduce your chance of developing cataracts.
Glaucoma is a condition where the optic nerve, which transmits signals from your eye to your brain, is damaged by the pressure of the fluid inside your eye. This may be because the pressure is higher than normal, or because the nerve is more susceptible to damage from pressure. In most cases there is no discomfort or pain, and any loss in vision is very gradual, which means that the condition can go unnoticed for some time.
Who is at risk of glaucoma?
Anyone can develop glaucoma, but the risk increases if you:
Are aged over 40
Are very short sighted
Are of African or Caribbean origin
Are closely related to someone with chronic glaucoma
Have raised eye pressure – this is called ocular hypertension (OCT)
Have high blood pressure
If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to tunnel vision and blindness. As a result, it is important to detect it early. During an eye examination, your optometrist can check for signs of glaucoma by measuring your eye pressures, performing a test of your visual field (to check what you can see all around you) and examining your optic nerve head. A photograph of the optic nerve can be useful for future visits, to help detect any changes.
If your optometrist suspects that you may have glaucoma, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist (a specialist eye doctor). If you do have glaucoma, you will mostly likely be given eye drops to use every day, which help to control the eye pressure.
Macular degeneration covers a number of conditions which affect the macula, the area at the back of your eye that you use for seeing fine detail such as reading a book and recognising faces. Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of sight loss in the UK, although most people with AMD still have their peripheral vision and so can see well enough to get around. In the early stages, AMD may cause blurred vision when reading, or it may cause straight lines to appear wavy.
How can I protect myself against AMD?
AMD becomes more common as we get older and you are more at risk of developing AMD if you have a family history of the condition. However, there are also modifiable risk factors for AMD which include:
Smoking – this is the major modifiable risk factor for AMD
Diet – a diet that is rich in vitamins C & E, plus lutein and zeaxanthin, found in coloured fruit and veg (such as kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots, peppers) may reduce your risk of AMD. These help to maintain a healthy level of macular pigment, which is thought to have a protective effect against AMD. There are also many supplements on the market which contain the necessary vitamins and minerals for good eye health. Some evidence has shown that people with existing AMD may delay progression of the disease if they take specific supplements. Please feel free to discuss this with your optometrist, who may recommend a macular pigment density scan.
UV protection – prolonged exposure to UV light may be linked to AMD, so we recommend that you wear UV absorbing glasses when you are going to be outside for long periods.