It's normal for your vision to change slightly with age. But getting older can increase the risk for serious eye problems that could lead to vision loss. So what can you do to keep your vision in the best possible shape?
Turns out, plenty. "For every stage we reach in life, different parts of our bodies require different types of care and attention. Our eyes are no exception to that rule," says Roselyn Ahua, OD, FAAO, an optometrist who works in private practice and for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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In fact, many of the most helpful eye habits will go a long way toward protecting your health as a whole.
Here, Dr. Ahua shares the strategies she uses to keep her vision sharp now and in the future.
1. She Wears Sunglasses When She's Outside
Like putting on sunscreen, slipping on shades should be a regular habit.
"One of the most impactful things we can do is to protect our eyes from UV ray exposure," Dr. Ahua says.
Just like the sun's UV rays can cause damage to your skin, they can also harm your eyes: Chronic exposure can increase the risk of cancerous growths on the eye surface and lead to eye changes tied to age-related macular degeneration, Dr. Ahua notes.
To get the most protection, choose sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays, recommends Johns Hopkins Medicine. (The label should say "100% protection against UVA and UVB" or "100% protection against UV400.")
Make sure the sunglasses wrap around your face, too; otherwise, sunlight could flow in through the sides.
2. She Stays on Top of Chronic Health Issues
If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, work with your health care provider to make sure the condition is well-managed by taking your medications as prescribed and following healthy lifestyle habits.
"Diabetes is among the top five causes of vision impairment in the world. Hypertension can also cause a wide range of complications," Dr. Ahua says.
These include cataracts, visual distortion, abnormal bleeding and even blindness.
If you don't have these health issues, healthy vision is one more reason to work to prevent them by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, managing stress and maintaining a healthy weight.
3. She Keeps Up With Eye Appointments
Eye exams are about more than just checking to make sure your glasses or contact lens prescription is up to date. Your eye doctor is also looking at the health of your eyes to spot the early signs of possible problems.
"Some eye changes can't be felt or perceived until severe damage is present. An evaluation is crucial to determine the presence of conditions such as cataract, glaucoma, diabetic changes, breaks in the renal tissue, changes in the macula and presence of other ocular manifestations of disease," Dr. Ahua says.
How Often Should You Get Your Eyes Checked?
How often you should see the eye doctor depends on your age and health status, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Healthy adults with no signs of or risk factors for eye disease should see an ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam:
- Younger than 40: Not necessary
- Ages 40 to 54: Every two to four years
- Ages 55 to 64: Every one to three years
- Ages 65 and older: Every one to two years
Adults with diabetes should get a yearly eye exam, and people with diabetes who are trying to conceive should get an exam before conception and then again early in the first trimester of pregnancy.
People with health conditions or who are at higher risk for eye disease based on their medical history or family history should get eye exams regularly based on their doctor's recommendation.
4. She Eats a Healthy Diet
Eating the right foods helps keep your body in the best possible shape from head to toe, including your eyes. "Eyes can be affected by vitamin deficiencies," Dr. Ahua says.
While it's important to choose a wide range of wholesome, minimally processed foods, the American Academy of Ophthalmology says you may reduce your risk for age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and dry eye by eating ones rich in:
5. She Sticks With Other Healthy Lifestyle Habits
In addition to choosing healthy foods, "being mindful of our exercise, rest and stress levels helps us have healthier bodies overall, which leads to healthier eyes," Dr. Ahua says.
Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week, try to log seven to eight hours of sleep at night and find strategies that work to help you keep feelings of stress or anxiety in check.
6. She Doesn't Smoke
Smoking ups your risk for serious health problems including cancer, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and chronic breathing issues. And it can be harmful for your eyes.
"Cigarette use can result in dry eye, promote cataract development and significantly increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration," Dr. Ahua says.
So talk with your doctor about finding a way to quit. Your body — and your eyes — will thank you.
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