As you age, your eyes undergo natural changes year after year, making ongoing attention to your eye health an important aspect of your overall well-being.
The importance of ongoing eye care is a lesson champion wide receiver Victor Cruz learned young and learned well. “When I was young, my mom made sure that I went to all my annual vision tests and had my eyes checked numerous times just to make sure I was up to date,” Cruz said. “I had to make sure my vision was right because I was an athlete playing multiple sports and she wanted to make sure that my vision was taken care of first and foremost.”
In fact, the eyes are a good indicator of overall health. Trouble with your vision can be a red flag regarding eye health. In addition, according to the American Optometric Association, a range of signs of illnesses can be detected through an eye examination, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even rare hereditary diseases.
The World Health Organization, among other health authorities, asserts that more than 80 percent of vision problems can be prevented, treated or cured. Here are five easy tips for taking care of your eyes from the experts at Alcon, a global leader in eye care:
1. Schedule routine eye exams. Your eye doctor will advise you on how regularly you should have an eye exam. This will vary based on your age, health, family history and whether you wear glasses or contact lenses. According to the American Optometric Association, most healthy people over 6 years of age should have an eye exam every one to two years.
2. Ask for comfort when choosing lenses. If you need corrective contact lenses, recognize that advances have been made in contact lens technology and ask your eye doctor which product may be right for you. For example, DAILIES TOTAL1(r) contact lenses are the first and only contact lenses with water-gradient technology. The contact lens approaches 100 percent water content at the outermost surface, creating a cushion of moisture that delivers end-of-day comfort [based on laboratory measurement of unworn lenses].
3. Keep contact lenses clean and replace them as recommended. Despite our best intentions, many of us aren’t properly caring for our contact lenses. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 99 percent of lens wearers reported at least one contact lens hygiene risk behavior, such as swimming in contact lenses or not washing hands before inserting lenses. Be sure to speak with your eye doctor about your contact lens options. Some risky behaviors may be avoided by using daily disposable contact lenses.
4. Be open with your eye doctor. Be sure to tell your doctor about any discomfort or irritation you may be experiencing with your eyes or if you notice changes in your vision. There are new vision technologies being introduced regularly so there may be new products that can help you.
5. Protect your eyes from digital eye strain. Spending two or more hours a day staring at a screen (computer, smartphone, tablet, television, etc.) can lead to digital eye strain, which can result in physical straining that leads to dry, itchy or burning eyes. The Vision Council recommends protecting your eyes by following the 20-20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes you spend staring at a screen, take a 20-second break and focus on an object 20 feet away. Learn more about your eye health at www.MyEyes.com, where you can find resources to help you and your family take better care of your eyes and vision.
Protect vision from digital devices
Digital communication has become an integral part of daily life. Smartphones and tablets are pocket-sized personal assistants with appointment reminders, news and a means of keeping in touch with family and friends. Living multi-screen lives may aid productivity, but eye health professionals are increasingly worried about the consequences of “digital vision.” Over the past two years, time spent with digital devices has increased 49 percent, according to data from the online measurement firm comScore. Handheld devices are leading the way: time using smartphones jumped 90 percent and tablets surged 64 percent. However, some studies suggest all that time squinting at the phone may cause users to squint at everything else. Research housed through the Vision Impact Institute has shown that myopia (nearsightedness) is rapidly rising in East Asia, Europe and the United States, especially among younger people. Research is pointing to factors other than genetics, such as behavior and environment, as the cause of this epidemic of shortsightedness. The common denominator among these populations seems to be time spent using digital devices. While not seeing distances clearly can be frustrating, even dangerous when driving, it can be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses and refractive surgery. However, high myopia has been associated with a greater risk for ocular disorders, including retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts. “We’re good about getting the annual physical and dental check-up, but often we aren’t as diligent about seeing the eye doctor once a year,” said Maureen Cavanagh, president of the Vision Impact Institute. “As we turn more and more of our daily routines over to digital devices, we need to place a greater emphasis on scheduling regular eye exams to correct problems such as myopia and monitor for associated risks.” In addition, Cavanagh points to several small steps all digital users can take to make their devices healthier for their eyes: • Make sure the settings are adequate: increase screen font size and improve the contrast. Always use good lighting but avoid glare on small screens. • Exercise your eyes just as you exercise your body. Every few minutes, look up from the screen and focus on something in the distance. This exercise helps prevent eye strain and uses more of your ocular muscles. And don’t forget to take breaks occasionally. • Get outside. Sunshine can be the antidote to digital vision, according to some research. While the sun’s role isn’t completely understood, an Australian study showed that children who spent more time outside playing in natural light had a lower rate of myopia. In China, schools are experimenting with classrooms made of transparent materials to help stem the nation’s epidemic of shortsightedness in young people. Regardless of your age or how many digital devices you have, taking care of your eyes helps prevent vision problems and protects your overall eye health. Learn more at www.visionimpactinstitute.org.
Taking care of your eyes
A lifelong commitment
Are we taking our eyes for granted? Routine physicals, dental exams and well-child visits are not the only exams that should take place annually when it comes to maintaining your health. Annual comprehensive eye exams are critical to our quality of life, our effectiveness at work or school, and often to health in general. Yet, somehow, they frequently get overlooked by some. Our vision care needs to evolve as our lives change and as we proceed through life’s stages.
According to a study recently released by Think About Your Eyes (www.thinkaboutyoureyes.com), a national public awareness campaign promoting eye health and the importance of an annual comprehensive eye exam, a shocking 60 percent of parents responded that they don’t think an eye exam is an essential part of a child’s healthy checkup schedule. In fact, most parents admit to waiting until their child complains about a vision problem before contacting an eye doctor. Parents can’t rely on a child to tell them when it’s time to see an eye doctor. Early identification of a child’s vision problem is crucial because, if undiagnosed, vision problems can have a significant impact on a child’s success in school, sports and social situations. Children with significant problems with vision in one eye or problems with focusing both eyes together can still read the “20/20” line on an eye chart at a vision screening at their pediatrician’s offices or schools. That’s why The American Optometric Association (www.aoa.org), one of the Think About Your Eyes campaign supporters, recommends that by age six, children should have had three comprehensive eye exams—and not just a vision screening at school or pediatrician’s office. During a comprehensive eye exam, an eye doctor examines the overall health of the eyes, specifically uncovering issues pertaining to vision at all distances, testing depth perception, how well the eyes work together, color perception and peripheral vision.
Teenagers and college students are often tethered to digital devices, with Smartphones and computers ever-present in their day-to-day habits. A new study about digital eye strain (thevisioncouncil.org) states that 65% of children and teens spend more than two hours a day in front of a digital device, which can affect vision and potentially have long-term effects on vision health as a whole. Symptoms of digital eye strain–dry and irritated eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue, neck and back pain and headaches–can cause discomfort and may reduce productivity. An annual eye exam will appropriately diagnose and help patients manage these symptoms. Adults Vision care in adulthood should focus on maintaining or improving current vision health while also preventing vision issues that appear as we age. A common issue affecting adults is presbyopia, which makes it difficult to see things up close, and often presents in patients in their mid-40s and older. Annual eye exams are necessary to prescribe the correct lenses (glasses and contact lenses) to relieve eye strain and restore good visual function. More importantly, annual eye examinations detect sight-threatening eye diseases which must be treated early. Additionally, because the eye is literally the “window to the body,” many general health problems are first diagnosed at the optometrist’s office—health problems like diabetes, hypertension, cancers, neurological diseases and even brain tumors.
After age 60, age-related vision disorders become an issue. Macular degeneration and cataracts are more common in older adults, along with other eye diseases that can cause decreased vision. Usually the earlier an eye disease is detected and treated, the better the outcome. Anyone experiencing partial sight, blurred vision, blind spots, tunnel vision or changes in their vision should see an optometrist. Annual eye exams are a necessary measure to ensure eyes stay as healthy as possible. Regardless of age, remember that the most important step to healthy vision is to get a comprehensive eye exam once every year. An eye doctor can diagnose vision issues and prescribe corrective measures so you can see your best well into the future. To find an eye care provider near you, visit www.thinkaboutyoureyes.com. Editor’s note: Steven Loomis, O.D., is the president of the American Optometric Association and practices primary eye health and vision care in Littleton, CO.