College students often have a lot on their plates. But a busy academic life is no excuse to take shortcuts with eye health. Many potential eye problems can strike anyone, and college students and other young adults should be especially careful about a few things related to their vision.
Be Aware Around Screens
Digital eye strain is real and can make you really uncomfortable. Staring at any device for too long can make your eyes feel dry and tired, which can cause blurred vision. The reason is people tend to blink much less when using digital screen devices. Remember to give your eyes frequent breaks from computers, phones and tablets.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends following the 20-20-20 rule when using these devices: For every 20 minutes looking at a digital screen, look 20 feet away for a full 20 seconds to rest the eyes.
Other good strategies to reduce eye strain include:
- Alternate reading an e-book with a paper book.
- Look up and out the window every two chapters.
- Avoid using a computer outside or in brightly lit areas, because the glare on the screen can create strain.
- Adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer screen so that it feels comfortable to you.
- Use good posture when using a computer and when reading.
Keep Your Contacts Clean
If you’re a contact lens wearer, practice good hygiene consistently to prevent eye infections. A recent study showed that most contact lens wearers admit to at least one bad hygiene habit that puts them at risk for eye infections. To avoid an eye infection from contact lenses, follow these guidelines:
- Wash your hands with soap and water. Dry them well with a clean cloth before touching your contact lenses — every time.
- Don’t sleep in your contact lenses, unless prescribed by your eye doctor.
- Keep water away from your contact lenses. Avoid showering in contact lenses and remove them before swimming or using a hot tub.
- Don’t top off solution. Use only fresh contact lens disinfecting solution. Never mix fresh solution with old or used solution.
- Replace your contact lens case at least every three months. Rub and rinse your contact lens case with contact lens solution (never water) and empty and dry with a clean tissue paper. Store upside down with the caps off after each use.
- Give your eyes a rest. The cornea, the transparent tissue covering each eye, gets deprived of oxygen from being covered up all day by a contact lens. Starved for air, the cornea starts growing new blood vessels to compensate for the lack of oxygen. Over-wearing contact lenses can lead to problems such as eye inflammation and lipid deposits in the cornea. These problems can affect vision. Over-wearing can also increase the risk of infection.
- Occasional contact lens wearers: Disinfect the night before planned wear. Disinfecting solutions can become less effective over time, leading to microbial overgrowth in the case and on the lens.
Don’t Share Makeup
Never, ever share makeup. It seems harmless, but sharing makeup is a surefire way to spread viral infections, like pink eye (conjunctivitis). Stick to your own makeup and throw it away after three months. If you develop an eye infection, immediately toss your eye makeup.
Wear the Right Eye Protection for Your Activities
If you play sports, whether for your school or just a casual pickup game, protect your eyes from injuries with sports eyewear. Many sports have safety glasses designed specifically for players of that sport. About 30,000 people in the United States go to emergency departments each year because of sports-related eye injuries. Most of these injuries can be prevented by wearing the right protective eyewear.
Keep Your Body Healthy to Keep Your Eyes Healthy
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone – not just college students. Exercising, eating right and not smoking are three of the best investments you can make in your vision. Making healthy choices can help reduce the risk of getting some eye diseases that become more common with age, such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma.
Sleep is important for everyone's overall health. Lack of sleep can take a toll on nearly every part of your life. Research links sleep deprivation to car accidents, poor performance on the job, memory problems and mood disorders. Recent studies also suggest sleep disorders may contribute to heart disease, obesity and diabetes. A common side effect associated with lack of sleep is eye spasms. While spasms won’t damage your eye, they can be annoying and disruptive. Dry eye may also be worse if you’re not getting enough sleep.
Immediate Choices, Lifelong Effects
Decisions that young adults make can influence their risk of developing eye disease later in life. Wearing sunglasses reduces your exposure to UV rays, which can reduce your chance of developing cataracts, macular degeneration and some eye cancers. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing diabetes and diabetic retinopathy — which can be blinding. Deciding not to smoke can also cut your risk of developing macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older adults.
Get Scheduled Checkups
If you have an increased risk of glaucoma, ask your doctor how often you should have regular eye exams to check for this potentially blinding eye disease. Those at higher risk of glaucoma include people of African descent, people with diabetes and those with a family history of glaucoma, like a parent or sibling with glaucoma.
In some cases, eye exams also can be life-saving. Some health conditions can be visible in the eyes. Illnesses that can be detected during an eye exam include:
- Potential stroke
- High blood pressure
- Autoimmune diseases
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Some cancers