7 ways to keep your eyes healthy

Jane Wesely, sister at Benenden Hospital’s eye unit, explains how we should take care of our eyes.

“You rely on your eyesight and it’s not until it’s taken away from you that suddenly you appreciate it,” says Jane. “So start good eye care early and you’ll reap the benefits by having healthy eyes for longer.”

Here’s how Jane suggests we look after our eyes...

Eye health tips

1. Have regular eye tests

The most obvious way to look after your eyes is to have regular eye tests. If you don’t wear glasses, then a yearly check-up is usually fine. If you do need specs, then a six-monthly check might be required – your optician can advise. If you notice any changes in your vision or have headaches after reading, then see your optician.

2. Start eye care at an early age

Obviously, some children are born with eye conditions that need regular attention from birth but, for everyone else, annual eye checks should be a part of your health routine just like going to the dentist. Opticians have pictures called ‘K pictures’ which the children match to test their eyesight before they know their letters. However, it can be tricky to get an accurate result when they’re toddlers. We find that often when children start school a teacher will suggest an eye test if a child is struggling to concentrate or to read. Some children get to secondary school without the issue being spotted, so it’s a good idea to start testing early. Learn some other healthy habits to teach your children here.

3. Look after your diet

Eating a healthy diet keeps your eyes healthy for longer. Dark green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, kale or spinach) contain high levels of lutein, which is good for eye health. Also eat healthy fats regularly which can be found in foods such as oily fish or nuts. The healthier your diet, the better your eyes are likely to be. Diabetic patients can have eye problems – so following a healthy diet to help avoid type 2 diabetes is a very good idea. Uncontrolled or undiagnosed diabetes can lead to a condition called diabetic retinopathy where areas of bleeding and swelling at the back of the eye cause blurred vision. Diabetic patients will be checked for this regularly.

4. Follow healthy screen habits

Computer vision syndrome is not yet a recognised condition, but people can certainly be affected by it, especially if they work on a screen all day. The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests the 20-20-20 method. You take a 20-second screen break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away (remember 20-20-20). This is a good way to avoid dry eyes or getting a headache because when you’re using a computer you can forget to blink. Learn how to reduce your screen time here.

5. Avoid smoking and heavy alcohol consumption

Smoking can speed up the process of getting cataracts and alcohol can cause a number of issues from dry eyes and irritation in the short term to optic nerve damage following sustained alcohol abuse.

6. Take care in the sun

We tell patients to wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat because exposure to the sun can increase the risk of developing cataracts. The skin around the eye is also very thin, and at risk of cancer from exposure to the sun. Make sure that the sunglasses have ultraviolet (UV) protection. You can learn more here about how to protect yourself from the sun.

7. Avoid infections

Good hygiene – such as washing hands before or after touching your eyes and using clean towels and flannels – is important for avoiding eye infections such as conjunctivitis. Never share eye make-up as that can spread bacteria and remove your make-up at the end of the day. If you wipe your eyes with a tissue or cotton wool pad, make sure you only use one per eye and wash your hands afterwards to avoid spreading any bacteria. Be particularly careful when someone in the house has an eye infection as they spread very easily.