If you’re in your 20s or 30s, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about your eye health. But this is exactly the time you should be acting to preserve your vision. Most vision problems are preventable with simple good-health habits.
Vision loss is not an inevitable part of getting older. Many studies have shown that exercise and a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables can protect against blinding eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma. But you can’t wait until you’re having problems with your vision to start taking care of your health.
The choices you make while you’re healthy can also help prevent certain types of eye cancer, as well as work- and sports-related eye injuries. And regular eye exams can catch problems before it’s too late. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends adults under age 40 have a comprehensive medical eye exam every five to 10 years.
Make these seven habits part of your daily life to set yourself up for a lifetime of seeing well:
• Wear sunglasses (even when it’s cloudy) — Long-term exposure to the sun without proper protection can increase the risk of eye disease, including cataract, macular degeneration, growths on the eye, and a rare form of eye cancer. Wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation.
• Exercise — Regular physical activity can protect you from serious eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.
• Stop smoking — Smoking increases the risk for eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Smoking also raises the risk for cardiovascular diseases that can indirectly influence your eye health. Tobacco smoke, including second-hand smoke, also makes dry eye worse.
• Protect your eyes at work and at play. Every year, thousands of people in the United States get a serious work-related eye injury or sports-related eye injury. Wearing protective eyewear (safety glasses or goggles) can prevent most of these injuries. To make sure you have the right kind of protective eyewear and you’re using it correctly, talk with your eye care professional.
• Be aware of eye fatigue. If you spend a lot of time at the computer or staring at your phone, you may forget to blink — and that can tire out your eyes. Try using the 20-20-20 rule throughout the day: every 20 minutes, look away from the screens and focus about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. Eye fatigue won’t damage your vision, but if it persists, it can be a sign something else is wrong. You may have dry eye, presbyopia, or spectacles with lenses that are not properly centered.
• Take proper care of contact lenses. Sleeping, showering and swimming in contact lenses increases your risk for a potentially blinding eye infection. Learn how to properly care for contact lenses.
• Know your family history. Certain eye diseases can be inherited. If you have a close relative with macular degeneration, you have a 50 percent chance of developing this condition. A family history of glaucoma increases your glaucoma risk by four to nine times. Talk to family members about their eye conditions. Knowing what vision challenges your family has had can help you and your ophthalmologist evaluate your risk.
First published June 11, 2019 by the American Academy of Ophthalmology; reviewed by Dianna L Seldomridge, MD, MBA