They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but they’re also windows into your health.
“Many systemic conditions—such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis—have adverse effects that can be seen during a routine eye examination,” says Dr. Deana LaBrosse, founder and primary optometrist at Evanston Eye Wellness, a practice based outside of Chicago. “Changes to eyesight may be the first signs of some of these conditions.”
Just like any other organ in your body, your eyes require certain nutrients and healthy practices to function properly. So it’s not surprising that the effects of a poor diet, technology, sun exposure, and smoking can have a cumulative effect on our eye health, as well—even though these effects may not be realized until later in life.
Unfortunately, many people aren’t following healthy eye-care practices—and that’s because it’s easy to take eye health for granted when nothing is wrong right now. Let’s explore six things—besides an annual eye examination—that you should be doing for your eyes tomorrow, starting today:
1. Protect your eyes from blue light
Thanks to modern society’s use of technology (cue everyone staring at their iPhones!) and artificial lighting, the American Optometric Association says our eyes have increased exposure to retina-damaging high-energy blue light—which wasn’t an issue in centuries past.
“Excess blue light may cause deep tissue damage in the eye and lead to increased risk of macular degeneration later in life,” says Dr. LaBrosse. “Too much blue light may also disrupt circadian rhythms, making it difficult to sleep after a long day on the computer.”
She recommends wearing glasses with blue-light filters, while also supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that build pigment in the macula, which act like an “internal sunscreen” to protect delicate photoreceptors.
2. Protect your tear film
More than that, environmental stressors—like our computers—cause our blink rates to decrease. “This leads to a down regulation of the oil production in the eyelids and atrophy of the meibomian glands (these prevent the evaporation of the eye’s tear film).
Supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids is necessary for many people to ensure a healthy tear film. Look for a product (like this Nordic Naturals Omega 3) that can get you to 1,000 mg of EPA + DHA omega 3s daily.
3. Clean your eyelids
Your eyelashes don’t just exist for batting—they’re actually a natural reservoir for debris and oils. But those materials can create crusts and biofilms that coat the base of the lashes and create eyelid and eye inflammation, and may lead to chronic dry eye issues, according to the American Optometric Association.
Dr. Lacrosse recommends daily eyelid hygiene with a mild, non-foaming cleanser, along with using a Jojoba cleansing oil—which has a similar composition as our eyes’ natural oils—to break up stubborn debris.
4. Maintain good computer visual hygiene
If you spend a lot of time on digital devices, it’s wise to take frequent blink breaks. The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests using the 20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes take a 20-second break to blink and shift focus to an object 20 feet away before resuming close-up work. This will help prevent digital eyestrain and keep your focus flexible.
5. Use artificial tears
“Our tear layer is the first thing light goes through before it enters the eye,” says Dr. LaBrosse. “Therefore, if your eyes are dry, your vision will be blurry or fluctuate.”
She recommends supplementing your tears during computer use or during low humidity times. Unlike a commonly perpetuated myth, using artificial tears will not cause you to become dependent on them, according to the Cochrane Database.
6. Know your family history
As with most things, prevention is key. Certain sight-threatening conditions, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, have a genetic component. “Knowing your genetic predisposition can help you employ preventative lifestyle changes to lessen your risk of visual changes later on,” says Dr. LaBrosse. If you know of family members with these issues, be sure to make this clear to your doctor.
7. Eat Well
“Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is important in reducing the risk of all diseases, including those of the eyes. In addition, stress reduction and exercise may help reduce overall inflammation in the body and eyes,” Dr. LaBrosse says.
“If we can detect changes early and before they impact eyesight, patients have the best overall outcomes no matter the age,” concludes Dr. LaBrosse. “If your eyes don’t look good, feel good, or see good, see your optometrist immediately.”