10 ways to future-proof your eyesight

We fear losing our sight more than any other sense, yet most of us take our eyes for granted. Jacqui Ripley looks at ways to improve our focus


10 ways to future-proof your eyesight

1. Watch your weight

According to Barbara McLaughlan, campaigns manager eye health and social care at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, obesity is increasingly being discussed as a risk factor for all four major causes of sight loss: glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. Someone with a BMI of more than 35 is up to 80 times more likely to develop diabetes than someone with a BMI of less than 22, she says. The risk of developing cataracts can also be doubled due to being overweight.

2. Look beyond carrots

We’re all familiar with the old wives’ tale that carrots can help us see in the dark, but according to a Health Sight Survey commissioned by Transitions Optical, 43 per cent of us are unaware that bad nutrition can cause damage to the eyes, including cataracts and AMD. Antioxidants are the key players for optimum eye health, but it’s lutein and zeaxanthin that are particularly beneficial. Often found together in dark coloured fruits and vegetables such as spinach and prunes, they act as nature’s sunglasses, helping to filter out damaging forms of light and protecting the macula (the central part of the retina). For extra eye insurance, try Vitabiotics Visionace Plus.

3. Do eye yoga

For good eye karma, Karen Sparrow, education advisor at the Association of Optometrists, recommends exercising your eyes, just as you would your body at the gym. ‘It’s important for achieving healthy sight by helping to strengthen and stretch your eye muscles,’ she says. She recommends this exercise: moving clockwise, roll your eyes so you can follow the extremes of your vision. Don’t push too hard or strain your eyes. Once you have completed a clockwise circle, stop and roll your eyes anticlockwise. Repeat twice in each direction, then blink quickly a few times, close your eyes and relax. For further exercises go to healthysightcoach.co.uk.

4. Practise good hygiene

A pink eye is the most obvious sign of conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the conjunctiva (the thin covering over the white part of the eye). It can be caused by irritation from chemicals, an allergy or a bacterial or viral infection. The first line of defence is not to share flannels or towels, wash hands frequently and try not to rub your eyes. Once the condition has cleared, Boots optometrist Carolyn Zweig advises throwing away any eye drops or cosmetics such as eyeliner or mascara you have been using, so as not to reinfect yourself. Contact lenses and their solutions may also need to be replaced. ‘All of these items have had direct contact with the eye and will be contaminated with bacteria,’ she says.

5. Stop smoking

The sight charity The Eyecare Trust warns that smokers are 47 per cent more likely to suffer AMD than non-smokers, and are likely to develop it five years earlier than non-smokers. ‘There is now a clear link established between smoking and AMD, yet few people are aware of it,’ says Iain Anderson, chairman of The Eyecare Trust. Smokers are also at an increased risk of developing cataracts and can suffer impaired colour vision as nicotine begins to poison the optic nerve. For help with stopping, call the Quitline on 0800 00 22 00 or go to quit.org.uk.

6. Wear sunglasses (whatever the season)

Leaving your eyes bare to the glare, even in winter, can cause long-term damage. A study at the University of Wisconsin Medical School found that people who exposed their eyes to sunlight for five or more hours a day during their teens and twenties doubled the risk of developing early signs of AMD. But beware of choosing style over lens quality. ‘Check your sunglasses carry a CE mark, which shows that lenses meet European Standards, or a UV400 label,’ says Paul Carroll, an optometrist at Specsavers. ‘Pupils get smaller in bright light, but when you wear tinted lenses, pupils dilate. If your glasses don’t provide adequate UV protection, eyes will be exposed to more UV than usual and, subsequently, more damage.’

7. Screen-save your sight

According to the London Hazards Centre, more than 70 per cent of people who work at a computer screen for more than six hours a day experience visual problems. Prolonged use of a computer screen can result in what has been dubbed computer vision syndrome, with symptoms including eye strain, double vision and temporary short-sightedness. ‘When working at a computer screen our blink rate drops, which can cause eyes to become dry,’ says Carroll. ‘Try to take regular screen breaks, and if your eyes feel dry, close them for a few seconds to help moisturise the surface of the cornea.’

8. Have an eye test

Even if you’ve always had 20/20 vision, you should still have regular eye tests, says Carroll. ‘Our eyesight changes over time and usually starts to deteriorate from our late thirties.’ If you struggle to read road signs or number plates easily, you could be short-sighted. If reading a book brings on a headache, you may be long-sighted. A regular eye test, every two years, is a vital health check that can also help diagnose medical conditions such as thyroid problems.

9. Sniff jasmine

Dr Alan Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, has discovered that inhaling jasmine essential oil can improve our ability to focus our visual attention. ‘It’s a scent that triggers beta waves in the front of the brain, which stimulates alertness,’ he says. ‘When you’re more awake you focus better and see things more acutely.’

10. Get off the couch

‘The eyes need oxygen to stay healthy and comfortable,’ says Anderson, ‘and aerobic exercise can increase oxygen supplies to the optic nerve and lower pressure in the eye.’ He explains that reducing intraocular eye pressure – when the pressure inside the eye is higher than normal – can help control conditions such as glaucoma. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin found that those with an active lifestyle were 70 per cent less likely to develop AMD than those with a sedentary lifestyle.

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