No matter who you are and where you live, chances are you spend too much time staring at screens. From our laptops to our smartphones to our televisions, screens are a near ever-present part of our lives. And as essential as they may be in helping us work, connect with others, and unwind, they do a number on our eyes.
In fact, staring at screens for extended periods of time negatively affects our eyes in numerous ways. Whether or not we realize it, we blink less often while staring at a digital screen, which can lead to dryness, explains Paul Karpecki, O.D., Director of Cornea Services at Kentucky Eye Institute and member of the Eyesafe Vision Health Advisory Board.
And another thing: “Over-use of digital devices, especially up close, causes digital eye strain, which is medically called trigeminal dysphoria,” he says. “The overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve (the largest nerve affecting the face and head) results in dry eyes, headaches, and neck stiffness. That dry eye can also lead to blurred vision.”
Perhaps the biggest concern, though, is the exposure to high-energy visible light (HEVL), also known as blue light. This is especially problematic for young people. “As we age, the lens in our eye turns yellow, which actually filters some HEVL,” says Karpecki. “But, in young people, this exposure could potentially lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD).”
While most of us can’t totally cut screen time from our day-to-day lives, we can take other measures to keep our peepers safe. Add these expert-approved tips to your daily routine to keep your eyes healthy.
1. Cut down screen time at Night
Since many of us spend the workday looking at a screen, it’s vital that we try to spend other times of the day screen-free. “This is especially important at night, when you’re using screens in dark rooms and have to strain to make out the image,” says Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council.
Additionally, excess screen time before bed can mess with your sleep—and the break your eyes benefit from it.
2. Consider purchasing a screen protector
To make your screens a little less menacing, Karpecki suggests looking at a screen protector like ZAGG, which uses Eyesafe® technology. “They not only protect your devices from cracks and scratches, but also filter out the harmful high-energy visible light that can lead to eye damage—all without affecting the natural colors and quality,” he says.
3. Get your fill of carotenoids
There are many nutrients that keep your eyes healthy—and antioxidants called carotenoids are some of the most important.
Beta-carotene, a carotenoid found in plants and converted to vitamin A in the body, “helps your eyes adjust to the darkness, which can come in handy when staring at screens for long periods of time,” says Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D., Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You’ll find it in orange-colored produce, like carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, cantaloupe, and mangoes.
Two other carotenoids that are excellent for eye health: lutein and zeaxanthin. “Both have antioxidant properties that may protect the retina,” says Kerkenbush. “You can find them in oranges, papayas, nectarines, squash, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, kale, and eggs.”
Health professionals recommend consuming 10 milligrams of lutein and two milligrams of zeaxanthin daily to support eye health. So, if you don’t eat the above foods regularly, consider supplements, suggests dietitian Elizabeth Ward, R.D.N., co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan. (Most multivitamins contain vitamin A and you can load up on lutein and zeaxanthin with The Vitamin Shoppe brand’s Lutein with Zeaxanthin.)
Finally, the carotenoid lycopene—found in tomatoes—is another eye health-promoting carotenoid. In fact, it’s been shown to help reduce the risk of macular degeneration. “This is important since macular degeneration is worsened by inflammation, eye strain, and fatigue that screen time can exacerbate,” says dietitian Jackie Elnahar, R.D.
4. Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Zinc
Not only is zinc beneficial for boosting your immune system, but it also supports eye health. “Zinc helps vitamin A reach the retina, where it helps produce the protective pigment melanin,” explains Kerkenbush. For this reason, it’s an important nutrient to prioritize in order to keep your eyes healthy.
Read More: 5 Signs You Need More Zinc
Try to pair your beta-carotene-containing foods with zinc-rich foods (like oysters, beef, pork, chicken, eggs, legumes, and beans) whenever possible. Don’t think you’re getting enough zinc in your diet? Try supplementing with The Vitamin Shoppe brand Zinc.
5. Eat plenty of healthy fats
Omega-3 fatty acids, which offer immune-boosting properties, can potentially keep your eyes healthy, too. One study published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science found that DHA (the omega-3 fatty acid that makes up about 30 percent of the brain), specifically, is beneficial for retina health.
Though there’s no set daily recommended intake for DHA, the National Institutes of Health recommends eating fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines regularly to meet your omega-3 needs. If these foods aren’t a regular part of your routine, consider a fish oil or algae-based omega-3 supplement.
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