Did you know that May is Healthy Vision Month? To be honest, I didn’t really know about this until recently, and I’m a full-time eye doctor who thinks about vision and eyeballs all day long. Perhaps I overlooked the national eye health observance because, from my perspective, protecting your vision is a year-round personal health priority.
Many people don't realize that they can improve their vision with glasses or contacts or that common eye diseases, including glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, often have no warning signs. So in recognition of Healthy Vision Month, pause for a moment to consider the importance of eyes on your overall health and then adopt daily habits to help maintain good eyesight well into your golden years. Here's are a few tips to get you started:
One of the best things you can do to keep your eyes healthy is protect them from injury. Every day, about 2,000 U.S. workers have a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment. Most of these injuries result from small objects that strike, abrade or splash the eye. When I used to work in an eye emergency room, I saw several patients a day who had been grinding metal or hammering something that got into their eye. Chemical burns from cleaning products or other industrial chemicals were also very common. Most of these injuries could have been prevented by wearing proper eye protection, such as safety glasses or using a splash guard.
While many injuries happen at work, eye injuries also occur at home. If you're hanging pictures, mowing the lawn or working in your home workshop, make sure you wear proper eye protection. If you think you may have gotten something in your eye, contact a medical provider - ideally an optometrist or ophthalmologist - who can perform an assessment for any sight-threatening injury. If you splash any chemicals into your eyes, time is of the essence. The longer the irritant is in your eye, the higher the risk of permanent damage or scarring. Rinse out your eyes with clean water (tap water is great) for at least 10 minutes, then go to the emergency room or call 911.
Healthy body, healthy eyes
Aside from preventing injury, the best way to keep your eyes healthy is by keeping yourself healthy. If you maintain a healthy body weight, there is less of a chance of developing diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. These conditions can all lead to vision loss, with diabetes being the number one cause of vision loss in the working-age population in the United States. If you have already been diagnosed with one of these conditions, make sure you regularly follow up with your primary care doctor and take your prescribed medications. According to the published guidelines, if you keep your diabetes controlled, then you can reduce your risk of developing retinopathy (bleeding in the eye) by up to 76 percent and keep your kidneys healthy at the same time.
A few last things you can do to keep your eyes healthy:
- Don’t smoke.
- Wear sunglasses to slow cataract formation and macular degeneration.
- Eat a well-balanced diet including green-leafy vegetables, like kale and spinach, and consider supplementing with anti-oxidant vitamins.
- Lastly, have your eyes examined regularly. Adults between the ages of 40 to 65 should have an eye exam every two to four years. Adults over the age of 65 should have an eye exam every one to two years.
Retina specialist Theodore Leng, MD, is a clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology at Stanford. He recently launched a clinical trial at Stanford to evaluate the safety of stem cell transplantation in advanced dry macular degeneration. Read more about eye health on his blog, VisionMD.org.
Photo by Chris Schrier