When it comes to eye health, what works and what's a gimmick?
Should you take special vitamins or will carrots suffice? How much screen time is too much? Do you need expensive sunglasses? Can a glass of wine actually improve your eyesight?
Stephanie Marie Llop Santiago, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, part of the University of Miami Health System, shares her top eyesight-saving tips.
1. Kick this Habit Now
It’s no surprise that smoking tops Dr. Llop’s unhealthy hit list. “Smoking is a strong risk factor for cataracts and is associated with other eyesight problems. Exposure to secondhand smoke also increases your risk,” Dr. Llop says. If you smoke, quit – for your health and the health of those around you.
2. Eat Your Veggies
Eating a healthy, whole-food, low-fat diet is vital to your vision. By adding more leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach to your plate, you lower your risk for cataracts and Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). This dynamic duo contains lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which help preserve vision. “Vegetables also contain antioxidants which promote overall eye health,” says Dr. Llop. The more colorful the vegetable, the more likely it contains the nutrients your eyes need. Carrots come to mind when we think of eyesight, but collards, tomatoes, red peppers, and citrus also benefit eye health. By eating a nutritious diet, you’ll help maintain your eyesight and overall health. “Staying healthy is good for your vision, and will hopefully help you avoid diseases like diabetes, which is the most common cause of vision loss in the working population,” Dr. Llop says.
3. Raise Your Glass
You might want to pair that produce with a nice glass of wine. A recently published study demonstrated that low to moderate alcohol consumption (less than six glasses per week) reduced the risk of having to undergo cataract surgery. Dr. Llop thinks that the high amounts of antioxidants in wine might contribute to eye health. And a Bascom Palmer study showed the positive effects a grape-rich diet has on retinal health.
4. Skip Most Off-the-Shelf Shortcuts
Not a veggie lover? Sorry, but you can’t get all the nutrients you need from a bottle. Taking a high-quality multivitamin won’t hurt, but don’t expect it to solve problems, except in limited cases. “The AREDS II vitamin formula helps slow the progression of AMD from dry to wet AMD, but only in people who already have the condition. There’s no evidence it prevents AMD,” Dr. Llop says. Supplements are not without risks. “The first AREDS formula had a risk for lung cancer because it contained high amounts of beta carotene.”
If you struggle with dry eye, Dr. Llop recommends omega 3 supplements. This form of healthy fat is also found in cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, as well as nuts, seeds, flaxseed, and canola oil.
5. Shield Your Eyes
One of the most overlooked, but important eyesight-saving tips is proper eye protection. To prevent injuries, wear safety glasses when performing certain sports or exercises, or when working on house or yard projects. Wearing sunglasses in South Florida is a no-brainer. They don’t have to be expensive but should block all ultraviolet (UV) light. “Sunglasses that block 100% of UV light slow the progression of cataracts, eye surface cancers, and pterygium,” says Dr. Llop.
6. See Your Doctor
Dr. Llop says that people with 20/20 vision can wait until age 40 to schedule annual eye exams. Presbyopia, a condition causing farsightedness, usually begins in middle age. For most people, this is easily remedied with reading glasses.
Even if your vision is good, a family history of glaucoma, macular degeneration, or other silent eye diseases means you should see an ophthalmologist yearly, starting around age 40, or earlier, if you experience problems with your vision.
7. Control Your Screen Time
Ophthalmologists like Dr. Llop report “an increase in eye strain and dry eye complaints” from patients. Little wonder, considering how much time we spend staring at phones, computers, tablets, and televisions. Follow the 20-20-20 rule to reduce eye strain and dry eye. “Every 20 minutes, look up from your screen to an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds,” says Dr. Llop. This relaxes the eyes and reminds you to blink, increasing moisture in your eyes. Stick a note to your computer or use an app to remind yourself to follow the rule.
When excessive screen time causes dry eye, Dr. Llop recommends artificial tears. Don’t use allergy relief drops or those designed to ‘get the red out’. “If you’re using drops every two to three hours to relieve dryness, use preservative-free drops and see your eye doctor.” Your doctor can suggest other ways to improve the condition.
To minimize eye strain, adjust lighting and distance on your device. “Your screen shouldn’t be brighter than the surrounding environment and should be 25 inches or arms’ length distance from you,” Dr. Llop says. “Anti-reflective coating on eyeglasses also helps cut down glare.”
A recent small study found no significant benefit from wearing blue light blocking computer glasses. Since blue light affects our circadian rhythm which interferes with sleep, health experts do recommend shutting off digital devices three to four hours before bed.
Nancy Moreland is a regular contributor to UMiami Health News. She has written for several major health care systems and the CDC. Her writing also appears in the Chicago Tribune and U.S. News & World Report.
To learn more eyesight-saving tips or to schedule an appointment,
visit Bascom Palmer Eye Institute or call 305-243-2020.
They can cause eye injuries if you do not use them correctly and take these necessary safety precautions to avoid snap-back accidents.