Photo by Unsplash/Sharon McCutcheon
Patients ask me every day how they can protect their vision. This chapter will explain how your lifestyle decisions can benefit your eyes and your everyday life.
We all know that proper nutrition is essential to our well-being. In addition to promoting long-term overall health, good eating habits will nourish your eyes. But other parts of your lifestyle also directly affect the health of your eyes. For instance, smoking increases the risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and regular exercise can help prevent certain eye diseases.
My lifestyle recommendations for preventing eye disease will also promote long-term general health. The benefits of a healthy lifestyle are numerous. You will notice that you have the energy and vitality you need to lead a happy and fulfilling life.
Eating eyefoods will lead you down the path to better eye health, but an overall healthy lifestyle will have an even greater impact on the prevention of eye disease. The eye-friendly lifestyle recommendations in this chapter will help you improve your eye health and general well-being.
Ultraviolet and Blue Light Exposure
The sun and certain types of lamps, such as those used in tanning beds, emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Researchers have found that overexposure to UV light may cause cataracts, AMD, skin cancer, sunburns and premature aging of the skin. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends wearing sunglasses, using sunscreen to protect against the harmful effects of UV light and avoiding overexposure to UV light and tanning beds. Health Canada says “There is no such thing as a safe tan” and, in an article titled “It’s Your Health: Tanning Lamps,” available online, has published advice on making informed decisions when using a tanning bed.
Blue light (short-wavelength visible light) causes oxidative stress to the retina. This affects people with less of the macular pigments lutein and zeaxanthin. People with light-colored irises, people with AMD and people with a genetic predisposition to AMD are more susceptible to the harmful effects of blue light.
Pro Tip: Overexposure to UV light may cause skin cancer, sunburn and premature aging of the skin.
Blue Light and UV Light: A large European study showed a significant relationship between blue light and new blood vessel growth in the retinas of patients with early AMD and low levels of antioxidants. These findings reinforce the theory that diet and lifestyle are both important in the prevention of eye disease. Another significant study found that sunlight exposure in young adult life is associated with the development of early AMD.
Childhood UV Light Exposure
Babies, children and young adults have more transparent lenses in their eyes and more sensitive skin. As a result, they are at a greater risk of experiencing the adverse effects of overexposure to UV light — though those effects may not show up until later in life. By 18 years of age, the average person has received 80% of their life’s UV exposure. That’s why it is critical to effectively protect our children’s eyes from the sun, beginning at birth and continuing throughout their childhood.
UV ABCs: It may help to remember that UVA rays contribute to aging, UVB rays can cause burning, and UVC rays increase your risk of developing cancer. In other words, A for aging, B for burning, C for cancer.
Photo by Pixabay/Jason Gillman
Computer and Device Use
Do you come home from work or school feeling like your eyes have been glued to the computer — literally? Are you having a hard time falling asleep after late-night emails or Candy Crush? These technology tips will help improve your visual comfort and performance at home, work and play.
Remember to Blink!
Our blink rate decreases from approximately 17 times per minute to 10 times per minute when we are using electronic devices or really concentrating on a specific activity. A decreased blink rate can result in dryness, discomfort and even blurry or distorted vision. Make sure you are fully closing your eyes while blinking — research shows that partial blinking at a faster rate is the same as barely blinking at all!
Every 20 minutes, focus on an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Taking regular breaks from our electronic devices allows our eyes to relax and reduces strain throughout the day. You can set an alarm to help you remember to take these regular “daydream breaks.” There are even computer programs, such as Google’s eyeCare, available to give you scheduled reminders.
Invest in Your Vision
When updating your glasses, invest in a good antireflective coating and blue light filter. This filter absorbs some of the high-energy blue light being emitted from our electronic devices and decreases the amount that is transmitted into our eyes. As a result, your eyes will feel less strain and fatigue throughout the day and night.
Optimize Your Workspace to Maximize Your Vision
- Keep your computer monitor or laptop at arm’s length and 15 to 20 degrees below eye level.
- Match the brightness and contrast of your screen to your surroundings.
- Minimize sources of glare on your screen. Position your monitor or laptop so that natural or diffuse lighting is on either side of your workstation. Light should not be directed in front of or behind your screen.
- Increase clarity by removing all dirt and dust from electronic screens.
Avoid Blue Light Before Bed
At night, the blue light emitted by our devices can disrupt our circadian rhythm and melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep. The best way to avoid sleep disruption is to put down your devices and say good night to technology at least 2 hours before bedtime.
There's an App for That: For those who aren't able to kick the late-night tech habit, there are smartphone and tablet apps that modify brightness settings and filter the amount of blue light being emitted as day progresses into night.
Q. How Can i Minimize the effects of blue light?
A. We can decrease our exposure to blue light by restricting technology use and using applications that decrease the amount of blue light emmited by our smartphones and computers. It's also important to have a blue light filter on both your prescription glasses and sunglasses.
Another way to protect the macula from these high-energy rays is to increase you rintake of lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids are concentrated in the macula, where they act as blue light filters. Our bodies do not make lutein or zeaxanthin, so it is important to obtain these pigments through diet or supplements. Kale is the top food choice for blue light protection - 1 cup (250 mL) contains 10 milligrams of lutein. Watercress, pea shoots and Chinese broccoli are also good, often overlooked, leafy green choices.
I recommend making leafy greens a daily addition to your diet by adding them to salads, soups or smoothies. Eating orange bell peppers (both raw and cooked) and eggs four times per week will also help increase the concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin in your body and maculae.
More from The Complete Eye Health & Nutrition Guide: Eye Foods: