You’ve been told you have 20/20 vision, which is about as good as it gets.
But life can take a toll on our eyes. Fortunately, we can take steps to protect our sight. For 2020: Year of the Eye, the American Academy of Ophthalmology presents 20 tips to keep your eyes in top shape no matter what turns life takes.
Wherever you go ...
From home to work to travel or play, eyes can get hurt. Common sense can prevent many of these eye injuries.
1. At home: The comforts of home can pose threats to the eyes. Cooking, yard work or gardening, cleaning and home improvement projects top the list. Did you know oven sprays and bleach-based cleaners can permanently damage the surface of the eye? An accidental splash into the face can cause scarring and blindness.
Safety glasses or other protective eyewear can shield your eyes from most of these hazards. In the kitchen, lids or grease shields on sizzling pans prevent spattering oil from reaching the eye. When cleaning, read product labels first. They usually have information on eye safety. Don’t mix cleaning products, which can result in hazardous combinations. In the garden, brimmed hats offer protection along with glasses to avoid getting poked in the eye by a twig or bush. Same goes for home improvement projects.
2. At work: People who work outdoors or with heavy equipment or chemicals tend to get more injuries than office workers. The best way to prevent eye injuries if you work outdoors? A familiar message: Glasses, goggles or physical eye protection. "Grinding metal is particularly dangerous, because small shards can penetrate all the way into the eye and need emergency surgery. I’ve seen it so many times," says ophthalmologist and Academy spokesperson Natasha Herz, MD, a specialist in cataract, cornea and LASIK surgery.
But even gazing at computer all day can cause eyestrain. If you work in the office, sit at least an arm’s length from the screen, take regular eye breaks and look away from the computer. Use artificial tears if you develop dry eye and keep your screen brightness similar to the room light.
3. At celebrations, festivals, parties: You’re out for a night of celebration. Why worry about your eyes? If your event includes popping champagne bottles or dazzling fireworks, your eyes are at risk. The best prevention: distance. Aim that champagne bottle away from people and cover the cork with a towel before opening to slow its pop. Home fireworks are fun but risky. Stick with professional firework displays. If you find yourself at a backyard fireworks show, put plenty of distance between the yourself and explosives. Supervise children at all times. Don’t touch duds; put them in water. Don’t launch fireworks from glass or ceramic containers.
Whatever you do ...
Whether you have an active lifestyle or are taking it easy, your eyes are vulnerable to unhealthy conditions. Most of these can be avoided with simple safety measures.
4. Playing sports: Exercise is good for your health, including your eyes! But some sports are riskier than others for the eyes. This includes anything with a ball or racquet. The number one way to prevent sport-related eye injuries is by wearing eye protection, glasses or a helmet with a safety visor.
5. Exploring the great outdoors: Nature is also good for our health, whether exercising or quietly taking in the beauty. Most risks to eyes come from sunlight and allergic reactions to pollen. Bee stings or insect bites can also be nasty to the eyes, but are rare. Whenever you’re heading into the sun, wear sunglasses — even in the winter. If you get itchy, red eyes outdoors, see a doctor about allergies. There are many medicines that can help.
6. Traveling the world: Going for pleasure or business? Travel tips for healthy eyes include packing sunglasses, extra prescription glasses, drops for dry eye, which is common on airplanes. Bring plenty of contact lens solution and extra contacts. Don’t wash your lenses in water! If your eye becomes red, painful or sensitive to regular indoor light, see an ophthalmologist immediately — no matter where you are. Don’t wait until you get home.
7. Smoking: We all know smoking isn’t good for our health, and can easily damage the eyes. Cigarette smoking is linked to many eye diseases, from cataracts to macular degeneration. Exposure to secondhand smoke is also hard on the eyes, especially for children. Even if you don’t smoke, do your best to avoid second-hand smoke.
8. Dining and drinking: We’re learning more every day about nutrition and our eyes. Dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach contain vitamins that nurture nerve tissue inside the eye. Orange vegetables such as carrots and squash also boost eye health. A diet rich in plant-based foods and low in saturated or animal fats is best.
9. Applying makeup and cosmetics: A few steps will help make sure your beauty regime isn’t hurting your eyes. Don’t share make-up, which can spread bacteria. Throw away eye makeup after three months and get new products. Infection-causing bacteria grow easily in creamy or liquid eye makeup. Side note about liners and lashes: Apply eyeliners outside the lash line, and never close to your eye. Steer clear of tattooed eyeliner — this can make your eyelids permanently swollen, dry and irritated, a condition called blepharitis. Avoid glitters. Thoroughly remove makeup before going to bed. If you use Latisse, a prescription eyelash enhancer, follow your doctor’s directions carefully. Only get eyebrow coloring or shaping from a professional. If your eyes have an unusual reaction to any cosmetic such as persistent pain or redness, see an ophthalmologist.
10. Playing with children: Romping with kids can be a joy. But some toys and activities are dangerous for little eyes. Kids should wear eye protection or helmets with visors for many sports such as football, baseball and hockey. Projectile toys are never safe for toddlers. Adults should always supervise this kind of play in older children. Nerf dart guns with hard-tipped bullets, air guns and bows and arrows are especially dangerous, Herz says. "Many parents think these guns are safe because they're Nerf. Not so! Kids will shoot you at point blank range in the eye and never think it could cause terrible damage. Everyone needs to wear eye protection if they are going to play with these toys. Always. Or just don’t buy them," she adds.
No matter your stage of life ...
Your family's health history plays a big role in your vision. This is true regardless of ethnic or racial background. Let your ophthalmologist know if certain eye conditions — such as macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and corneal dystrophy — run in your family. Many inherited diseases benefit from early treatment.
11. Pregnancy: Some eye changes are normal during pregnancy. This includes blurry vision or dry eye. If such changes last after you’re a new mom, talk to your doctor. If you’re pregnant and have diabetes, you face other risks and should have your eyes screened early in the pregnancy.
12. Early childhood: The eyes are constantly changing in the first years of life. What’s good for the eyes is also good for the rest of a child’s health – spend time outdoors, get fresh air and eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Common sense eye protection includes cabinet and drawer locks, so your child can’t reach toxic cleaning products, knives or other dangers. Staying up on vaccines is also important. If you notice injuries or changes in a child’s eyes, schedule an eye exam.
What about electronic screens? Just like with adults, kids eyes can suffer from long periods at the screen. Screen eyes are prone to dry eye or eyestrain. "There are multiple studies showing prolonged near work induces nearsightedness. This is the biggest danger of hours of screen time," Herz says.
13. College: College students practically live at their computers or phones. "Big point for college students: Don't sleep in your contacts!" Herz says. Doing so can lead to a nasty eye infection, causing scarring and permanent vision loss. "If you do sleep in your lenses and wake up with a red, painful eye, remove the contacts immediately and see and ophthalmologist." An urgent care center will not be able to diagnose or treat this type of infection, she adds. Also important: Don’t share makeup. Fight stress with sleep and a healthy diet.
14. Adulthood: Vision screenings become especially important during adulthood. By the time you’re 40, you should have a baseline eye screening by an ophthalmologist. If you have diabetes or wear contacts, you need eye exams earlier and more often.
15. Golden years: Eyes age along with the rest of the body. It can be hard to know what’s a sign of normal aging, and what needs medical attention. Starting at around age 40, for example, you may notice blurry close-up or near vision. This is called presbyopia and it's fairly common. But blurry vision sometimes signals a more serious eye condition such as macular degeneration. Same thing for dry eye. This is common as we age. But it can also be a sign of an underlying illness such as rheumatoid arthritis. Pay close attention to worsening symptoms and get regular eye screenings by an ophthalmologist. Regular screenings improve the chances of catching and treating eye diseases before they damage your vision. Early treatment is the key to lasting health.
When life takes an unexpected turn ...
16. Migraine: Many people who get migraine headaches experience early warning signs such as vision changes. Seeing flashes, zigzag lines, colors and shimmers can indicate a migraine is on the way. Nausea is also common. Several medications are effective in treating migraines. Talk to your doctor to find the best one for you.
17. Pinkeye and infectious diseases: Pinkeye (also known as conjunctivitis) happens when the tissue covering the whites of your eye gets irritated. It’s usually caused by an infection (viral or bacterial) or allergies. Pinkeye caused by a virus or bacteria is highly contagious. The treatment for pinkeye depends on the cause. Antibiotic eye drops are usually needed for bacterial pinkeye. There’s no treatment for viral pinkeye except waiting for it to clear, which it will. Cold compresses on the eyelids can reduce discomfort. Over-the-counter drops can help conjunctivitis caused by allergies.
18. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): People don’t know that most STDs can affect the eyes. This includes herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, venereal warts, HIV/AIDS and pubic lice. Infections can spread to the eyes. Practicing safe sex is the best way to protect your eyes from STDs. Diagnosis is essential to a full recovery. If you think you have an STD or have been exposed to one, see a doctor immediately. Today, many effective treatments can cure STDs or reduce symptoms for a normal quality of life.
Regular eye screenings are important!
19. Keep your health on track: One of the best tools for caring for your eyes is regular medical screening. This is especially true for adults. Many eye diseases progress without symptoms such as glaucoma. You don’t know you have it until your vision is affected. Early detection and treatment greatly improves the chances of saving vision, and slowing glaucoma blindness.
20. Catch underlying health conditions: Regular eye exams can detect a surprising number of non-eye diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease. Medical advances in eye care are helping ophthalmologists save vision and boost overall health.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a baseline eye exam by age 40 for most people and exams every year for people at age 60 or older.