2. Get regular eye exams to catch vision problems early
Regular eye exams are the only way to identify a variety of vision problems, including diseases like glaucoma, which have no symptoms in their early stages but are a major cause of blindness for people over 60, according to the AAO.
AMD, a leading cause of vision loss in people over 50, can start without any symptoms in the early stages, but can be detected during a comprehensive eye exam, according to the AAO.
The AAO recommends that complete eye exams be performed on the following schedule:
- Once in your twenties
- Twice in their 30s
- Back at the age of 40, when early signs of illness or changes in vision occur
- Every year or two if you are 65 or older
Some people may need to see an ophthalmologist more frequently. If you wear contact lenses, you should see your eye doctor about once a year, says the AAO. If you have diabetes or have a family history of eye disease, especially glaucoma, the AAO recommends talking to your doctor about how often you should have your eyes checked.
3. Stop smoking now to prevent eye problems later
“Keep away from tobacco in any form,” says Taylor.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is as bad for your eyes as it is for the rest of your body. Smoking can lead to serious eye conditions that can cause vision loss or blindness, including AMD and cataracts.
If you smoke, you’re twice as likely to develop AMD as people who don’t smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. AMD affects central vision, which is needed to see things clearly and for everyday tasks such as reading, recognizing faces, and driving.
If you smoke, you are also two to three times more likely to develop cataracts than people who do not smoke. Cataracts cause blurry vision that gets worse over time and can lead to severe vision loss.
Quitting smoking may reduce your risk of both AMD and cataracts, and if you already have AMD, quitting smoking may slow the progression of the disease.
4. Protect your eyes from the sun
Ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) from the sun and tanning beds produce changes in DNA that can lead to skin cancer on the eyelids as well as premature aging of the skin around the eyes, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
UV rays can cause other serious eye conditions, including:
eye lens darkening Cataracts darken and yellow the lens of the eye, resulting in vision loss that gets worse over time. At least 10 percent of cataracts are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
AMD AMD is caused by ultraviolet light damage to the central part of the retina.
Conjunctival cancers These eye cancers are more common than they used to be.
To protect your eyes from the sun, sunglasses should be worn, according to Taylor. This applies when you are outside in the sun all year round. But don’t be fooled into thinking the darker the better. “It’s the label you peel off the glasses when you buy them,” she says, “that matters.” Sunglasses should have 99 to 100 percent full protection from UVA and UVB rays (both long and short wave). When purchasing sunglasses, look for the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation.
You should also wear a hat with a brim of at least 3 inches and a tightly woven fabric, as well as a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
5. Try the 20-20-20 rule to avoid dry eyes
When your eyes don’t make enough tears, the right kind of tears, or tear film, it’s known as dry eye. Ironically, one of the most common symptoms of dry eyes is having lots of tears, according to the AAO, because your eyes make more tears when irritated by dry eyes. Dry eyes can also cause stinging, burning, redness, irritation, and pain and can affect your vision.
According to the AAO, causes of dry eyes include:
- Aging or hormonal changes. Dry eyes are especially common in postmenopausal women.
- Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, thyroid disease, and lupus
- blepharitis (when the eyelids are red or swollen)
- entropion (when the eyelids turn inward); ectropion (when the eyelids turn out)
- Being in a smoky, windy or extremely dry climate
- Long-term use of contact lenses
- Refractive eye surgery such as LASIK
- Certain medications
- Working at a computer all day can lead to dry eyes, as can extended reading. Partly that’s because when we do things up close, Taylor says, we don’t blink as much.
To prevent dry eyes, the AAO recommends the following tips:
- Avoid using a hair dryer
- Stay away from very warm rooms. Add moisture to the air by using a humidifier during the winter months.
- Wear wraparound glasses when you’re outside in the dry wind.
For computer-induced dry eye, try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away for 20 seconds at something at least 20 feet away, according to the American Optometric Association.
A warm compress over the eyes is a simple home remedy for dry eyes, notes the AAO, as are artificial tears. If these treatments are not effective, your doctor may prescribe prescription eye drops.
6. Prevent diabetes if possible
According to the CDC, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. This common eye disease occurs when high blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retina, which can stop blood flow and lead to blurred vision.
If you have type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes, you can develop diabetic retinopathy, and the longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to develop eye problems, says the CDC.
You may not notice symptoms in the early stage of diabetic retinopathy, but a routine eye exam can detect them early when treatment is most effective. Prompt treatment can repair eye damage and prevent blindness in most people.
Tips for reducing vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy include:
- Keep your blood sugar levels in the target range.
- Control of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Quitting smoking to reduce the risk of diabetes-related eye diseases.
- Be physically active, which helps in managing diabetes.
7. Avoid saturated fats to prevent AMD
AMD occurs when a part of the retina called the macula becomes damaged, causing you to lose your central vision, according to the AAO.
There are two types of AMD:
Dry AMD About 80 percent of people with AMD have the dry form of the disease. Dry AMD occurs when parts of the macula become thinner with age. Currently, there is no cure for dry AMD.
Wet AMD Wet AMD is less common but more serious. Wet AMD occurs when abnormal new blood vessels grow under the retina, which can leak blood or other fluids, leading to scarring of the macula.
Most people don’t realize they have AMD until they have very blurry vision, so it’s important to see your doctor for routine eye exams to catch any early signs before vision problems arise.
Other ways to prevent AMD include:
Follow a healthy diet low in saturated fat. People who eat a lot of saturated fat (found in foods like meat, butter, and cheese) are more likely to develop AMD.
Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight. People who are overweight are more likely to develop AMD.
Quit Smoking. Smoking is a risk factor for AMD.
stay healthy. Talk to your doctor about how to reduce high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol levels.
8. Get a complete eye exam for glaucoma, including an eye pressure test
Because glaucoma has no symptoms in its early stages, half of people with this common disease don’t know they have it, according to the AAO. Glaucoma is so insidious that it is often referred to as the “silent thief of sight.”
The only way to find out if you have glaucoma before you lose your sight is to have regular eye exams, including a check of your eye pressure. Blindness can often be prevented with early treatment.
Glaucoma usually occurs when fluid builds up in the front of your eye, increasing pressure in your eye and damaging your optic nerve, says the AAO.
There are two main types of glaucoma.
Open-angle glaucoma In open-angle glaucoma (the most common type), the eye doesn’t drain fluid as well as it should. As a result, eye pressure rises and gradually begins to damage the optic nerve. Although there are no early signs and symptoms, blind spots appear in peripheral (side) vision as the disease progresses.
Angle-closure glaucoma (Also called “angle-closure” or “narrow-angle glaucoma”) Angle-closure glaucoma occurs when your iris is too close to the drainage angle of your eye. In this scenario, the iris could end up blocking the drainage angle. When the drainage angle is completely blocked, the intraocular pressure rises very rapidly, causing what is known as an acute attack.
Signs of an acute attack include:
- Sudden blurry vision
- severe eye pain
- Seeing rainbow rings or halos around lights
If you have symptoms of an acute attack, go to the emergency room or you could go blind.
9. Pay attention to your general health
As the old saying goes, the eyes are the window to the soul, but Taylor says they can also serve as an indicator of a person’s overall health. If a patient comes into her office with dry eyes, she asks other health questions, because dry eyes can be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or thyroid disease.
Patients with blurred vision may have diabetes or a tumor, or they may have had a stroke. People with itchy, red eyes may have a contact lens allergy that they aren’t aware of. Taylor also recently diagnosed multiple sclerosis in a patient who had unusual eye movements.
Pay attention to your vision as well as your general health so you can spot problems early and protect your vision.