May is Healthy Vision Month when the National Eye Institute (NEI) encourages everyone to make eye health a priority. This message is especially important for women, who make up two-thirds of all people living with blindness or visual impairment from diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and cataract. Among women age 40 and older in the U.S., 2.7 million are blind or visually impaired.
There are often no early warning signs for the very conditions that most threaten your eyesight, including glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease, says Rachel Bishop, M.D., an ophthalmologist and researcher at the National Eye Institute. She suggests these proactive moves to keep your eyes healthy.
Have a comprehensive dilated eye exam
This is more than just a vision screening. An eye care professional places drops in each eye to dilate, or widen, the pupil. This illuminates the back of the eyes so that he or she can see signs of damage or disease. Take the dilated eye exam a step farther and have a digital retinal imaging done so that you and your Doctor have even more information about your overall health and well-being.
Know your history
Eye diseases are often hereditary, so it’s important to know if anyone in your family has been diagnosed. This information will help determine your risk level and establish how frequently your eyes should be checked.
Carrots are good for your eyes, but so are dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens. You’ll also want to eat plenty of fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and halibut. They deliver a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids beneficial for eye health, research shows.
Stub it out
Smoking is linked to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and optic nerve damage, all of which can cause blindness. If you need help quitting, ask your doctor.
Choose sunglasses that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation.
Take a break
When using a phone, computer or any electronic screen, reduce eyestrain with the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.
Use protective eyewear to prevent injuries on the job, while playing sports or doing simple chores around the home.
In addition to your comprehensive dilated eye exams, visit an eye care professional if you have:
- Decreased vision.
- Eye pain.
- Drainage or redness of the eye.
- Double vision.
- Floaters (tiny specks that appear to float before your eyes).
- Circles (halos) around light sources; or
- If you see flashes of light.