Daily habits damaging your vision and eye health

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Eye Health | Sunday, September 11, 2016 - 09:30 AM

Closeup of a worried businessman rubbing eyesOur eyes put up with a lot. Hours in front of the TV or computer, ambient low lighting in a restaurant, squinting into the sun while driving (even with sunglasses), the list goes on and on. And despite how important our eyesight is, we tend to take it for granted.

There are certain habits, in particular, that we continue to put our eyes through that are actually quite damaging. If any of the following sounds familiar, now’s the time to stop. You’ve only got the one pair after all…

1. Rubbing or touching your eyes

Whether they’re dry, itchy, or maybe an eyelash got in, touching or rubbing your eyes with your fingers and hands is not advised.

Right off the bat, picture all the things you touch and handle throughout the day and really think about how often you’ve washed your hands. Probably not a whole lot. When you start rubbing and touching your eyes, all the things you touched that day can now become transferred to your eye. That includes germs, bacteria, and anything else that can make you sick or cause infection.

Worse yet, the more you rub your eyes, the more minor tears in the tissue can occur. They can break and damage capillaries, and you might end up with visible veins (which can make you look older) or with dark spots around the eye.

When your eye is feeling itchy, keep your eyelid closed to avoid any germs from entering your eye and be gentle with rubbing. It can damage blood vessels and cause inflammation. Overall, keep your hands away from your line of vision, and wash them before rubbing or touching your sensitive eyes.

2. Skipping an eye exam

You may think that as long as you can see your surroundings, you have no problems with your vision. (If it’s not broken, don’t fix it). So you continue to put off that eye exam appointment because you feel your eyes are fine. Not good!

Just because you can see alright doesn’t mean there aren’t any issues developing. Whereas the rest of your body will cause you pain when something is wrong, your eyes do not have pain receptors and, therefore, symptoms reveal themselves in different ways.

An eye doctor, or  ophthalmologist, has the expertise and the equipment to give you an accurate diagnosis and the best advice for your eye health. They can spot any issues, minor or major, and help to resolve or prevent anything that may put your vision at risk.

Don’t wait until you notice a difference in your vision to see an eye doctor. By that time, it may be too late. Regular visits are a must, especially as you get older.

3. Using expired eye health products

Do you have a habit of holding on to medications, eye drops, or solutions? Well, if you’ve been looking at the same bottle for quite some time, it’s probably past its expiry date and should be thrown away. Just because drops and solutions aren’t something you ingest through your mouth, they are still being absorbed in your body and can be dangerous once they expire.

If you wear contact lenses, expired solution is a no-no. The cleaning properties in the solution are meant to kill bacteria to make sure the contacts are safe to put in your eyes. Over time, these ingredients lose their potency, and if they aren’t killing the bacteria, that means the bacteria are entering your eyes. The same goes for over-the-counter or prescribed drops: They, too, will become less effective post-expiry date.
You may want to do a clean sweep of your medicine cabinet and ensure your products are still safe to use. It’s not worth risking your vision over a few droplets.

4. Smoking

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) risk has been found to increase with smoking. The study found that smokers, or those who have smoked many cigarettes in their life, are at a greater risk for AMD, compared to non-smokers.

AMD is a common eye disease among the aging population. In fact, it is the leading cause of blindness among Americans over 50.

Researcher Dr. Neil Bressler said, “This study and other studies suggest that the cigarette smoking may increase the chance of macular degeneration worsening, which in turn, can increase the chance of losing central vision.”

The theory suggests that smoking damages the blood vessels that keep the retina nourished, or that smoking promotes toxin accumulation in the retina. Either way, the end result is a greater likelihood of developing macular degeneration.

The researchers looked at data from nearly 5,000 adults. Of the group, 4,439 participants were included in the analysis. The researchers found that 24 percent developed early AMD over the course of the 20-year study. Of those, 4.5 percent progressed to late-stage AMD.

Current smoking status was associated with a 36 percent higher risk of AMD progressing from minimal to mild. People who smoked the largest number of cigarettes over time also had a slightly greater risk of early AMD and the risk of progressing to late-stage AMD.

5. Extended sunlight exposure

The risk of cataracts increases with chronic sunlight exposure, research shows. UV light from the sun has been long known to cause damage to the skin, but the 2014 study has found it can damage eyes, too.

Oxidative stress is a chemical reaction that occurs when cells consume oxygen and other fuels as a means to produce energy. This is a natural process associated with aging and is often tied to age-related problems.

Cells found in the eye lens are mainly made up of water and proteins. They typically lack organelles, which are tiny ‘organs’ found in other cells. This unusual cellular makeup allows for the transparency of the eye lens, enabling it to transmit light and focus it on the retina. Under the impact of oxidative stress, the proteins of the lens cells start clumping together, forming a cataract.

The study revealed that UV light triggers lens protein damage in the same way oxygen does in the process of oxidative stress.

6. Eating poorly and missing out on key nutrients

Your diet has a lot to do with your vision. Like the rest of your body, your eyes need proper nourishment, and many of those nutrients come from the foods you eat.

An eye-friendly diet consists of leafy greens, fruits and vegetables, and omega-3s – the healthy fatty acids which you can get from most fish. Two main nutrients your eyes require are lutein and zeaxanthin, which are commonly found in vegetables. These nutrients act as important disease-fighting antioxidants for the eyes and the body as a whole.

If you’re always picking up a meal on the go, it’s time to switch up your diet. What you eat can also affect how you see, so a diet filled with fresh, colorful produce, lean proteins and whole grains is your best bet for your eye health.

Your vision doesn’t need to get worse just because you’re getting older. You can take these important steps as good insurance for your eye health. By swapping out a few of these bad habits, you can keep enjoying those day-to-day activities, like going for a drive, reading the newspaper, and watching your favorite TV program, for years to come.

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