Low vision and vision loss from eye disease are rapidly becoming major senior health concerns. According to the National Institutes of Health, by the year 2050, the number of Americans with age-related eye diseases is expected to double, and the number of people living with low vision is expected to triple.
But contrary to popular belief, vision problems don’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. There are proactive lifestyle changes you can make to protect your eyesight and avoid common eye problems.
Here are some great ways to safeguard your vision and support better eye health:
Drink plenty of water
In the hot, summer months, people are more likely to become dehydrated. However, older adults face an increased risk of dehydration year-round, in part due to a reduced ability to detect thirst as we get older. Without enough water, it becomes difficult for our eyes to produce tears, which can lead to dry, itchy eyes. It’s recommended that adults drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. If drinking plain water is difficult, try consuming more water-dense foods such as watermelon to help prevent the negative effects of dehydration and maintain healthy eye function.
You’ve probably heard that carrots are good for eyesight, but there are also many other foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that protect against vision problems. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E can support eye health. Try adding fish, eggs, nuts, citrus fruits, and leafy green vegetables like kale to your diet.
Protect your eyes from the sun
Sunglasses are more than a stylish fashion accessory; they’re meant to protect our eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Additionally, too much exposure to sunlight can lead to eye strain and headaches. To protect your eyes from the sun, invest in a quality pair of sunglasses that block out 99 to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B radiation. Wear your sunglasses whenever you go outside, even on overcast days. Because about 5 to 10% of all skin cancers are found on the eyelid, be sure to apply sunscreen to your face every day and consider wearing a hat or visor when going outdoors.
Wash your hands
Communicable eye diseases such as conjunctivitis (pink eye) can be avoided by simply washing your hands. These diseases are often spread after touching something that someone else has touched after they rubbed their own eyes. After an illness or an eye surgery such as cataract or glaucoma surgery, your eyes are more susceptible to infection. Make sure you are washing your hands frequently, especially before applying any drops to your eyes or putting in contacts. Avoid rubbing your eyes, as this may cause irritation and spread germs.
Give your eyes a rest
If your eyes frequently feel dry and tired, you might need to give them more breaks throughout the day. For example, looking at screens (like TVs, computers, tablets, and cell phones) for an extended period of time can cause eyestrain, fatigue, headaches, and even blurred vision. To prevent these problems, take regular breaks and rest your eyes. One good rule of thumb is the “20-20-20” rule, which means that for every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, you should look at an object that’s 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Likewise, be sure you’re getting adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation is known to impair our performance on visual tasks such as driving, reading, or cooking.
Schedule annual eye exams
Vision problems often occur gradually, making them difficult to detect. However, catching these problems early can help to protect your eye health down the road. For example, common age-related eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, and macular degeneration often have no warning signs, and can only be detected with a dilated eye exam by an eye care professional. The most important way to protect your eye health is to visit your eye doctor regularly for a comprehensive eye exam, even if you think your vision is fine. The American Optometric Association recommends everyone over the age of 60 receive an annual eye exam.