Do you remember the last time you saw your eye doctor? If you always schedule a yearly checkup, good for you! You’re already taking a big step toward protecting your vision. But there’s more that you can—and should—do. These steps aren’t complicated, yet can help you see clearly for a lifetime. Here’s our Bottom Line Guide to Healthy Eyes Decade by Decade…
AT EVERY AGE: BE SCREEN SMART
Screens have become a huge part of life—for work, play and connecting with others. It can be hard to pull yourself away, but it’s important to understand how all that screen time might affect your vision.
People blink less often when looking at screens, and that can lead to dry eye syndrome. Staring at a computer for long periods can also cause tired, irritated and watery eyes and even temporary blurry vision.
There’s also the issue of blue light from computers, cell phones, TVs and other devices with screens. Blue light, as the shortest wavelength with the most energy, causes flickering that can lead to eyestrain. We’re exposed to this wavelength in natural light as well, meaning that some people can be exposed to sources of blue light during virtually every waking hour.
And all that exposure may permanently damage the retina, the inner lining of the eye that sends images to the brain, as noted in research done on mice at the Universidad de Alcalá in Madrid, Spain. According to Marc Grossman, OD, a holistic eye doctor in New Paltz, New York, blue and ultraviolet light can also create free radicals in the eye, which can damage retinal cells and lead to age-related macular degeneration, a very serious eye condition.
This is an emerging area of study, noted Dr. Grossman, which means more research needs to be done on how long-term exposure to blue light affects humans. But eye doctors are concerned about the potential risks of looking at screens day and night.
Here’s how you can protect your eye health while staying connected through your devices…
Practice the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a break from looking at your device. Look away to a point 20 feet in the distance for at least 20 seconds.
Practice “palming.” Relieve eye fatigue with this exercise, Dr. Grossman said. Rub your palms together to warm them up, close your eyes and cup your hands over your eyes as you take deep breaths. After every 10 breaths, rub your palms together again to rewarm them. Repeat as often as you like.
Put your phone away. Try limiting cell phone use to less than two hours a day, Dr. Grossman said.
Filter out blue light. Blue light is found almost everywhere, including in sunlight, fluorescent and LED light, and on your screens. If you work outside and spend several hours a day exposed to sunlight, UVA/UVB sunglasses with an amber tint are a good choice. They neutralize blue light in sunlight, Dr. Grossman said. If you put in many hours of screen time from any combination of computer and phone use, consider changing the light settings on your devices to reduce blue light. The goal isn’t to filter out all blue light, Dr. Grossman said. Being exposed to it during the day helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) and helps you feel alert. The aim is to avoid excessive amounts.
IN YOUR 30s: DON’T BECOME A COUCH POTATO
The more you get your heart pumping, the healthier your eyes will be. Researchers compared the physical activity levels and vision quality of 6,634 Brits. Being inactive was associated with being twice as likely to have only fair or poor vision. Although the study involved adults age 65 and older, now is the time to establish a healthy regular exercise habit if you haven’t done so already. Getting in shape and staying there will also help you avoid high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which can lead to eye conditions that may cause vision loss.
While you’re making healthy lifestyle choices, throw in a quit-smoking plan if you still light up. Smoking is horrible for your eyes. It substantially increases risk for cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndrome, Dr. Grossman said.
IN YOUR 40s: GET CHECKED FOR SIGNS OF AGING EYES
Dry eye syndrome is a common problem for women in their 40s due to hormone changes as menopause approaches. Rewetting drops may be enough to relieve the burning or gritty feeling in your eyes, but if you have a more severe case, your doctor may recommend steroid eyedrops or cyclosporine.
Another condition that affects the eyes is Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that is usually diagnosed after age 40. Sjogren’s causes dry, itchy, burning eyes that may feel gritty as if there’s sand in them. (It also causes a very dry mouth, among other symptoms.)
Of course, you won’t be shocked when you find that sometime after your 40th birthday, you start having trouble focusing on things up close. That’s called presbyopia, and it’s a normal part of aging. Proteins within the lens of your eye become thick and make it less flexible, so your eye doesn’t focus light onto the retina the way it used to. You may struggle to make out fine print, or you might need to hold a magazine at arm’s length to read it.
Presbyopia may mean you need glasses for the first time or that your current prescription needs to be tweaked. Some people might reach for readers, or “cheaters” as they’re often called, those magnifying eyeglasses that come in different strengths and are often sold at the drugstore (and stylish designs are making their way into more and more boutiques). On the other hand, do nothing, and you could suffer from eyestrain and headaches.
Getting your yearly eye exam and making an appointment if you notice changes in your vision or dry eye or other symptoms will help you stay on top of your eye health.
IN YOUR 50s: FOCUS ON DIET AND EYE- HEALTH SUPPLEMENTS
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 65, but it generally takes years to develop, and by eating a diet full of antioxidants—primarily from fruits, vegetables and nuts—now you can slow the disease or even prevent it, Dr. Grossman said. Some antioxidants can also help prevent dry eye, cataracts and other causes of vision loss. It’s also important to limit sugar and alcohol.
Your eyes will benefit from…
- Omega-3 fatty acids found in sardines, salmon, tuna, flaxseed, walnuts and green leafy vegetables
- Vitamin A (beta carotene) found in carrots, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe
- Vitamin C found in citrus fruits and a variety of vegetables such as bell peppers
- Vitamin E found in almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and wheat germ
- Zinc and selenium found in seafood— especially oysters, eggs, black-eyed peas and wheat germ
- Magnesium found in almonds, wheat germ and green, leafy vegetables
- Chromium found in eggs, the skins of potatoes and brewer’s yeast. For brewer’s yeast, add one tablespoon a day to your breakfast smoothie or when juicing (see below) or take a 250 mg daily supplement. It’s generally safe for most people, but talk to your doctor before taking it if you have diabetes (it may help with blood sugar control) or Crohn’s disease.
Besides the nutrients you get naturally from those foods, Dr. Grossman also recommends a supplement to protect your eyes from light damage. Look for daily eye-health formulas with…
- Lutein, 10 mg
- Zeaxanthin, 2 mg to 12 mg
- Vitamin C, 2,000 mg to 3,000 mg
- Astaxanthin, 6 mg to 12 mg
IN YOUR 60s: WATCH FOR SIGNS OF EYE DISEASE
Eye diseases become much more common in our 60s and beyond. And vitally, some serious conditions don’t create noticeable symptoms until we’re well on our way to vision loss. Even if you’ve squeaked by with few eye exams as a younger person, now is when you must not do that anymore. Your yearly eye exam will check for…
- Dry eye syndrome. If your eyes feel scratchy or sting or burn, you may have dry eye. As many as 75% of people over 65 produce fewer tears as a result of aging or from another condition such as diabetes or autoimmune disease, Dr. Grossman said.
- Cataracts. These cause an opaque spot in your eye that can grow bigger over time. You might experience blurry, hazy vision and sensitivity to light.
- Age-related macular degeneration. In the early stages, the only sign of macular degeneration is drusen, or yellow deposits under the retina, which can be found during an eye exam. As the disease progresses, it causes severe loss of central vision.
- Diabetic retinopathy. When high blood sugar from diabetes damages blood vessels in the retina, symptoms may start with dark floating spots like shadows in your vision that go away but come back. About half the people with diabetic retinopathy will also develop macular edema, which leads to blurry vision. If diabetic retinopathy progresses, it can result in permanent vision loss.
- Glaucoma. Glaucoma can progress so slowly that you don’t notice you’re losing your vision until the disease is advanced. When glaucoma causes vision loss, it begins in your peripheral vision and progresses until everything looks hazy or blurry or you see colored circles around lights. Glaucoma can also cause headaches and eye pain, nausea and vomiting and sudden blindness. Your eye doctor can detect it early and prescribe treatment to prevent vision loss. (Dr. Grossman also notes that exercise reduces risk for glaucoma, one good reason you’re still regularly exercising in your 60s…right?)
IN YOUR 70s: SQUEEZE IN EVERY NUTRIENT
You need fewer calories as you get older, yet at the same time, health problems or medications may affect how well you absorb what nutrients you get from the food you eat. To ensure you’re getting the antioxidants you need to keep your eyes healthy and protect your vision, Dr. Grossman suggests juicing twice a day, mixing your own combinations from the following lists…
For retinal health, juice three or more of oranges, ginger, garlic, spinach, parsley, celery, carrots, pumpkin, beets, cabbage, asparagus, leeks, Jerusalem artichoke and raspberries.
For optic nerve health, juice three or more of apple, plum, raspberries, cucumber, carrots, radish, parsley, turnip, beets, cabbage and celery.
A note on quantities when juicing for eye health: For greens and berries, use a handful. For fruit such as apples and oranges, use a half or more. For leeks (white part only), Jerusalem artichokes, carrots and beets, use two to three. For celery, use two to four stalks. For ginger, use a finger-length piece or to taste. For garlic, use one or two cloves.
IN YOUR 80s & BEYOND: INCREASE EYE CARE VISITS AND DAILY WALKS
This is the time in life when you should be getting eye exams twice a year to quickly catch any changes, Dr. Grossman said.
Also go for walks outside as much as you can. Exercise is an important part of reducing your risk for eye conditions and for overall health. He suggests a daily walk of least 20 minutes—something you’re hopefully doing already—wearing amber-tinted sunglasses that wrap around the eyes and a hat, both to protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation.