In the U.S., about 4.2 million adults over the age of 40 are either legally blind or suffer from impaired vision. Age-related eye disorders such as macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma are the leading causes of blindness and poor vision among Americans.
An important aspect of disease prevention is being aware of the condition, the risk factors, and understanding the preventive measures, said Dr. Sumathi Venkatesh, a health specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Many of these eye diseases can be detected early through annual comprehensive eye examinations allowing appropriate treatment to prevent vision loss and impairment. Being overweight or obese and having medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure may aggravate your risk for eye problems. If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your physician about managing your weight and health. Several eye diseases can be prevented through a healthy lifestyle and by using proper protective eye gear. The National Eye Institute recommends the following preventive measures to protect your eyes:
Routine eye care – Pay attention to changes in your vision. Contact your eye care provider if your vision is blurry or if you have trouble seeing. Schedule comprehensive eye exams on a regular basis. A dilated eye examination will enable early detection and treatment of eye diseases.
Good nutrition – Consume a well-balanced diet loaded with fruits and vegetables, especially dark green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach and kale), whole grains, low-fat dairy products and a variety of protein foods. Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds may help with heart health and regulating blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels thus preventing the development of eye disorders.
Be active – Regular physical activity promotes overall health and helps to prevent and manage heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Adults need about 30 minutes of physical activity on most days. Try incorporating exercise in your daily activities such as gardening, doing household chores or taking the stairs at work.
Quit smoking – Smoking may harm several organs in our body including our eyes. Smoking can damage the optic nerves and may increase the risk for age-related macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and dry eyes syndrome.
Limit screen time – Prolonged screen time can make your eyes tired and dry. Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Take a break every 20 minutes by looking at something that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds. To reduce eye strain, adjust your screen lighting, position the screen to reduce glare, and use blue light filters.
Protect your eyes – Avoid looking directly at the sun. Wear sunglasses especially ones that block over 99% of UVA and UVB radiation. Use protective eye gear when using chemicals, playing sports, working on construction projects, and when mowing your lawn. Make sure your hands are clean when you wear and remove your contacts. Disinfect your contacts and replace them when they are due.
For more information and resources on eye health, visit the National Eye Institute at www.nei.nih.gov and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s Vision Health Initiative at www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/index.htm. For programs on nutrition, physical activity, heart health, diabetes, and blood pressure management, contact me at the Victoria County Extension Office at 361-575-4581.