10 ways to keep your eyes healthy
Our reporter asked Dr David Keegan, consultant ophthalmologist at the Mater Hospital, what we can do to reduce and even halt the effects of many serious sight complaints
1 HAVE YOUR EYES TESTED REGULARLY
Having regular eye tests (recommended every two years) will identify early indications of diseases such as cataract, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, which are treatable when caught early. An eye test can also identify other health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
"Don't ignore poor vision or just put it down to old age," says Dr Keegan. "Have it seen to by an eye doctor or another eye-care professional. A lot of people ignore poor vision even though much of what causes it is preventable. So have regular eye check-ups to keep on top of things."
2 EAT WELL
Maintaining a healthy weight and eating well can have enormous benefits for your eyes.
Some foods can even help to protect against certain eye conditions like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration due to the specific nutrients they contain called lutein or zeaxanthin, which are found in many fruits and vegetables, including mango, broccoli, green beans and spinach.
"Having a diet rich in anti-oxidants, in fruit and vegetables and low in fats, particularly saturated fats, will prevent against macular degeneration, cataract and diabetic retinopathy - three of the main causes of vision impairment worldwide," says Dr Keegan.
3 DON'T SMOKE
It is well documented that smoking is bad for your general health, but it can also cause direct damage to your sight by lessening the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream available to your eyes. The results of this 'oxidative stress' can lead to retina damage and even cell death in the area.
Smoking is also a risk factor in the development of age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. However, in many cases, one can stop or even reverse damage to the eyes - depending on the severity of the condition - by quitting.
4 DON'T IGNORE CHANGES IN YOUR VISION
From the moment you notice a problem with your vision, the clock is ticking on your treatment options.
"The biggest mistake people can make is to ignore progressive vision loss, either out of denial or not thinking it is a big problem because then, when they eventually do present, it may be too late," says Dr Keegan.
"Every eye doctor has multiple stories like that, unfortunately, where if the patient had just come in a few months earlier, they may have been able to do something for them. So don't ignore your symptoms. Do your bit by presenting to a health professional and looking for onwards referral."
5 wear quality-assured glasses
Not all sunglasses will protect against ultraviolet light from the sun, which can cause damage to eyes. So be sure your sunglasses have a UV factor rating and block 100pc of UV rays.
Fighting Blindness, an Irish patient-led charity, advises people to check the sunglasses they buy carry the 'CE' mark. The 'CE' mark indicates that the sunglasses in question meet European safety standards.
6 KNOW YOUR FAMILY'S HISTORY
Many of the eye conditions which cause sight loss are hereditary, so it is particularly important to be aware of any eye issues that may run in your family.
"It is important to know your family's eye history," says Dr Keegan. "There are some genetic conditions or partly genetic conditions which you can modify such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetes.
"These are things we can do something about. There are also conditions which will run in families and we don't have effective treatments for just yet, so they would be the inherited retinal degenerations for example, but these sorts of cases would fall into the 25pc of non-preventable causes of blindness currently.
"It is important that if an eye condition is in your family, you get assessed and checked yourself and you have a genetic test done, which is available through the Target 5000 Project run by Fighting Blindness."
For more information about Target 5000 or to register your interest, telephone 01 6789 004 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
7 GIVE YOUR EYES A BREAK
Your eyes are constantly on their 'A' game, so it is important to avoid eye strain by getting adequate rest periods. If you work at a computer, it is a good idea to take frequent screen breaks and enable you eyes to relax by looking into the distance briefly.
"Eye strain is a combination of muscle strain and your eyes drying out, and it can be very uncomfortable," explains Dr Keegan. "Eye strain relates to an intensive accommodative effort where you might be looking at something up close for long periods of time and that has all the muscles in the eye switched on.
"The best way to give your eyes a break is to look into the distance. So if you are setting up your computer, for example, don't set it up in the corner of a room, set it up by a window if you can instead, so you can look into the distance every 10 or 15 minutes.
"It is also important to be careful about working in very dry conditions or heated environments because your eyes may go dry. Be sure to blink regularly and you can take artificial tear supplements too if your eyes are very dry. These measures will eliminate 90pc of the symptoms of eye strain."
8 TAKE CARE WITH COSMETICS AND CHEMICALS
Your eyes are incredibly delicate, so take care and use common sense when using make-up removers or any other products around your eyes.
Make sure to close your eyes when spraying hairspray or perfumes and if you get dye or any other chemicals in your eye, rinse with water immediately.
"Be sensible. If you are getting things like false lashes for example, it is important to use reputable people," says Dr Keegan. "When something that is used to put on false lashes, or to dye the lashes, falls into the eye, it can be very sore, so if you get any sort of chemical products in your eye, wash it out with copious amounts of water and if it is still very sore, then present to the hospital to have somebody look at it."
9 GET SCREENED
Screening is a good idea for everyone, but for those with existing conditions such as diabetes, which could impact on their vision, it is a must. If you have diabetes, you should register with The National Diabetic Retinal Screening Programme. For full details, see: www.diabeticretinascreen.ie.
"There are a lot of manageable eye conditions - a lot of vision impairment is managed just with glasses and then there are other conditions like cataract, which is treated with a surgery, glaucoma, which is managed with drops, or retina conditions like retinal detachment or macular hole, which is treated with surgery," says Dr Keegan. "So screening for eye disease is very important."
10 KEEP IT CLEAN
Washing your hands thoroughly will help avoid the risk of eye infection (and is particularly important if you wear contact lenses).
* For more information, visit retina.ie.
Health & Living