Ten ways to keep your eyes healthy

Ten ways to keep your eyes healthy

“The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.“

—St. Jerome

Keeping our eyes healthy however does not cross our minds as much as keeping our hearts healthy. Fortunately, many of the ways we try to keep our hearts healthy also help other parts of our bodies, including our eyes. Ophthalmologists are first trained as doctors and we spend many years working on the wards, in accident and emergency and finally specialise in eyes and vision. As a result we see themes in how similar behaviours or lifestyle choices can affect different organs. One particular patient comes to mind who I saw initially in my first year as a junior doctor or FY1 over a decade and a half ago. She presented with ‘wet gangrene,’ a surgical emergency. As the admitting house surgeon, I took a history and ran a number of tests. Unknown to her, it was found that she actually had diabetes. Soon after, we had to amputate part of her foot to save her life and within the coming weeks she recovered well. I went on to work on the respiratory (lung) ward and met her again with her chest problems from smoking and finally when I went to work in Ophthalmology, I met her again when she came in for her diabetic eye screening appointment. This struck me particularly as it was the first time that I really understood how each and every part of our body is interrelated. The eyes are organs that are affected by disease in the same way as any other part of the body and although I spend my days looking at peoples eyes, I understand that there is a person and a story behind what is happening to that eye. We all want the best vision and to keep our eyes woking well, it is no secret that the rest of our body must also be in good working order.

Here are my top ten tips on how to keep your eyes seeing well into the future:

1) Do not smoke….. or if you do then give up! Smoking can lead to a risk of vascular occlusion which are like a small stroke in the eye. Smoking can also worsen or accelerate macular degeneration and cataract.

2) Eat well. Poor diet is liked to diabetes and this can lead to diabetic retinopathy, which can affect vision and is one of the leading causes of blindness. A good diet on the other hand, rich in antioxidants, green leafy vegetables, lutein, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish and eggs can help stave off macular degeneration and cataracts.

3) Exercise ….....but more importantly, wear eye protection! Injuries from projectiles can lead to glaucoma or even total loss of vision. I have operated to prevent sight loss due to cataract and glaucoma on a number of patients who have had injuries from squash balls and a shuttlecocks. A pair of polycarbonate glasses would have avoided the need for this.

4) Wear sunglasses. Even when not doing sport, UV exposure to the eyes can lead to a number of changes including melanoma of the choroid (the back of the eye). You cannot cover the with sun tan lotion although a hat might help somewhat and a pair of UV filtering glasses are an essential! Aside from the eyes, the eyelids and face are also one of the most common sites for developing forms of skin cancers and sunglasses will offer some degree of protection to these areas as well.

5) See your optician regularly. It is important to pick a good optician who will perform a detailed check of your eyes. There are a number of eye diseases which you will not be aware of until it is too late, such as glaucoma. This is particularly important if you have a family history, which can increase your chance of developing this sight threatening condition. Opticians do offer free tests to those with a family history of glaucoma so it is important to ask about this.

6) Have photographs taken of your eyes when you see your optician. Some features are picked up at a routine visit to your optician and if you have photos, it can give clues as to whether what is noticed is new or if it was there previously.

7) Test your eyes separately, closing each in turn. The brain can easily ‘switch off’ the visual feed from one eye if it is poor and this can mask a problem that is developing gradually such as macular degeneration or cataract. If you notice that one eye is getting worse then see your optician.

8) Do not neglect new symptoms. Floaters can occur as a new event and can be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment. If investigated and treated promptly, then this can make a significant difference to your outcome.

9) Avoid sleeping in contact lenses. You do not need to be able to see when you are sleeping, however wearing contact lenses to bed can significantly increase your risk of serious ocular infections.

10) Rest your eyes. Focussing on a screen for long periods can cause eye strain and headaches and can also exacerbate dry eyes. Your blink rate reduces as you stare at a screen and as the tears are spread over the eye less frequently, the tear film breaks up and leads to a dry eye. Dry eyes are uncomfortable, can feel tired and are more likely to get infections.

With all this in mind, the eyes do have a tremendous resilience and cause very little trouble for the amount of work they are called on to do. I hope the above gives you some simple common sense ideas on how to look after your most precious sense, your vision, for many years to come.