Each week, MyHealthNewsDaily asks the experts to answer questions about your health.
This week, we asked optometrists and ophthalmologists: What's the best way to preserve your eyesight? Here's what they said.
Dr. Bala Ambati, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Utah and director of corneal research at the John A. Moran Eye Center:
“When it comes to preserving your vision, early detection is key. Vision problems can often be prevented or delayed through early detection and treatment.
“Full visual exams every two years are sufficient for healthy adults in their mid-20s to mid-30s with the exception of those who wear contact lenses, in which case they should be seen each year. Routine exams are recommended for those in their late 30s and beyond because vision changes and eye diseases are more likely to develop. Anyone with a history of visual problems, diabetes, high blood pressure or lupus should get routine preventative care at least annually.
“If your vision suddenly changes and you start to experience blurred, wavy or distorted vision, you should see your ophthalmologist immediately. It is also recommended people eat a diet rich in nutrients such as zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene. Taking these supplements combined with a diet rich in dark, leafy greens, fruits and vegetables may help keep your vision healthy.”
Dr. Rosine Alianakian, optometrist and interim chief of primary care at the State University of New York (SUNY) State College of Optometry:
“There aren’t any steadfast rules, but there are some simple daily routines that one can develop that could slow down normal biological changes that can occur in the aging eye.
“Eating a well-balanced diet, including green, leafy vegetables and fresh fruits, can provide most of the essential vitamins and minerals that the eyes need to maintain proper biological function. Here at SUNY State College of Optometry, we recommend a daily vitamin that contains lutein, a carotenoid that is clinically proven to protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.
“Always wear protective UV-coated sunglasses outdoors. UV protection blocks harmful rays that may hasten the progression of age-related cataracts. Smoking can cause dry eyes and increase the rate of development of cataracts. Smoking also can put you at risk for age-related macular degeneration, all of which are great reasons to quit smoking.”
Mahsa Salehi, doctor of optometry at the Ocular Surface Diseases & Dry Eye Clinic at the Wilmer Eye Institute at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland:
“Eyesight is exquisite and considered one of the most essential senses that plays an important role in people’s lives; thus it is important to establish preventative behaviors and select ideal protective measures.
“Ultraviolet-shielding sunglasses block potential harmful light rays from sunlight that can play a role in development of abnormal growths on the surface of the eye, cataracts and macular degeneration. While it's important to protect our eyes from extended sun exposure, it is just as important to protect our eyes from hazardous chemicals, flying objects, airborne particles, etc. by wearing goggles or protective glasses.
“Research studies have shown nutrition to be critical to eye health and reducing the risk of eye diseases. Since our bodies do not create all the nutrients needed for optimal eye health, it’s essential to get them through our diet and/or nutritional supplements. Simple lifestyle modifications, including changes in our diet to control body-mass index (eating green, leafy vegetables, regular fish consumption …) and avoiding smoking are also important in caring for good eyesight. Because some serious eye diseases are silent in early stages and have no early warning symptoms, routine eye examinations are needed to maintain proper eye health; the importance of this cannot be overemphasized!”
Dr. Scott MacRae, director of the Refractive Surgery Center at the Flaum Eye Institute of the University of Rochester Medical Center:
“In general, the best thing you can do for your eyesight in the long term is to live all those behaviors you’ve heard so much about. Eat right and exercise. And don’t smoke! Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, especially green, leafy vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants that help counter the damage that occurs throughout our bodies as we age. And exercise, exercise, exercise! I ride my bicycle to and from work most of the year, including many days when it’s not snowing during the winter in Rochester, N.Y. What’s good for your body is good for your eyes, too. The better off you are overall, the better off your eyes will be.
“When talking specifically about your eyes, one thing I always tell my patients is not to rub their eyes intensely. A lot of people are surprised by that, but rubbing your eyes has been linked with weakening of the cornea, which can leave a person prone to eye infection or other damage, even to a condition known as keratoconus, which can cause severe deterioration of vision. If you have a problem with itchy eyes, try over-the-counter allergy eye drops, or speak to a physician and perhaps try a stronger drop treatment. Don’t let rubbing your eyes turn into a bad habit.”
Dr. Leejee Suh, assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami:
“I'm a cataract and corneal specialist, and I always tell my patients that the best way to halt progression of disease or prevent disease, such as cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma, is a healthy diet — a diet that's rich in vitamin A or beta carotene, vitamins C and E, zinc and more importantly, omega-3 fatty acids. You can get omega-3s from dark fish (salmon, halibut, tuna).
“A healthy diet, exercise and no smoking — those are my three tiers. And then I always talk about wearing sunglasses when you're outside. And if you're a user of computers or handheld devices, make sure that you have a good posture at the desk, you're constantly changing and shifting your focus so you're not causing eye strain, and if you are staring at a computer for extended periods of time, take breaks. If you feel dry eye, also use artificial tears (eye drops).
“I work in Florida, and the UV light can cause increased risk of cataracts, macular degeneration and a growth on your eye called pterygium. It's not a tumor; it's like a growth on the white of your eye that gets lumpy and can move into your visual axis on your cornea. You see this a lot in fair-weather places like Florida and California, where there's a lot of sun exposure. If your kids are out in the sun, they should wear sunglasses, too.”
Pass it on: Eating healthful foods, exercising regularly, not smoking and wearing sunglasses regularly can help you to preserve your vision and ward off eye disease.
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Follow MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Amanda Chan on Twitter @AmandaLChan.
Maria is our expert for medicine, fitness and general health. Her contributions are particularly convincing through completeness, accuracy and her own personal experience. Maria also writes for other health magazines, which has enabled her to build up her expert status.