Summer is here and so is the blazing sunshine. While now is the time for many of us to (safely) top up our vitamin D levels, we also need to stay sun-safe. That means protecting our eyes as well as our skin. Happily, there are many eye health tips that can help.
And this goes for our time spent indoors, too, plus some key lifestyle factors. Excessive screen time, high levels of stress and a diet full of processed, convenience foods can each impact eye health, for example. So, what can we do to help keep our eyes healthy and safe this summer and beyond?
Optical expert Dr Andy Hepworth, BSc FBDO, of leading-lens manufacturer Essilor, has some top eye health tips at the ready, including what vitamins you could take to nourish your eyes. Plus, he shares some eye-boosting recipes you can make with ease. Good news: dessert is on the menu.
1. Eat antioxidant-rich foods
“Certain antioxidants help to promote good eye health,” explains Dr Hepworth. “These include omega-3 fats and beta-carotene; vitamins such as C and E (which reduce the risks of developing AMD), and zinc and carotenoids. Sources of vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin also promote good eye health.”
Healthy eating is important for your whole health, but Dr Hepworth suggests a few fruits and veggies in particular for nourishing your vision. “If you’re looking to add more eye-boosting benefits into your meals, kale, butternut squash, blueberries, apricot and salmon are a great place to start.”
2. Protect your eyes properly in the sun
When the sun is shining, it’s tempting to stay out in it for as long as possible, but protecting for your eyes is a must. “Overexposure to UV light can lead to premature aging, plus serious eye health issues such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Excessive UV exposure also has been linked to corneal sunburn and retinal tissue damage. It can also cause eye strain and headaches.
“UVA rays are less damaging than intensive UVB rays, but eyes need to be protected from both,” continues Dr Hepworth. “Make sure your sunglasses have proper UV protection. The minimum should ideally be UV 400 protection, which blocks nearly 100% of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, with UVA and UVB protection.”
3. Cut your screen time to stave off dry eyes
According to research shared by the National Eye Institute, roughly 16 million Americans have Dry Eye Syndrome. It causes red, itchy, tired eyes, and screen time is one of the major culprits behind it.
“These symptoms can also be exacerbated by eye strain – another eye condition that has become more common in tandem with an increase of time staring at screens.” Dr Hepworth says.
“Follow the 20:20:20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a break for 20 seconds and look at objects that are 20 feet away. Following this rule will help prevent eye fatigue.”
If you wear contacts, you’re at increased risk of Dry Eye. Here’s what to do: “Make sure that you don’t wear them for longer than recommended and give your eyes a break by wearing glasses instead of your lenses on some occasions.”
4. Wash your hands, towels and bedding often
As a society, we have never been more aware of the importance of good hand hygiene (and hygiene in general). Regularly washing your hands, and avoiding touching your face, can help reduce your risk of contracting all sorts of viruses and nasties. Your eyes are no different.
Eye infections are varied, but thankfully most can be easily treated at home. That said, if you are experiencing weeping of the eyes, or have sore and red eyes that aren’t easing, visit an eye doctor as soon as possible.
Infective - The result of an infection caused by a virus or bacteria.
Allergic - Caused by exposure to allergens, such as pollen.
Irritant - Can occur when an irritant substance enters the eye.
Dr Hepworth says that one of the most common eye health conditions is conjunctivitis. “Conjunctivitis is where the conjunctiva becomes inflamed as a reaction to outside influences, causing it to become sore or irritated.
“Most types of conjunctivitis tend to clear up within one or two weeks, often without needing any medical treatment. If treatment is needed, eye drops or antibiotics will normally be advised depending on what type of conjunctivitis you have.”
You can also minimize your chances of infection by doing the following:
- Avoid rubbing your eyes
- Wash your hands frequently
- Regularly wash your towels and bed linen
- Allergy sufferers, always have antihistamines at hand
5. Avoid and alleviate allergens
“Itchy eyes occur due to irritation from pollen or another allergen landing on or near your eye. Once your eyes are itchy, they tend to become red due to an inflammatory response trying to fight off the irritant.”
You can also cause redness in your eyes by rubbing them. Wondering why your eyes are watering? It's because they're trying to flush out those pesky irritants. To reduce your exposure to allergies, wash your bedding, towels and clothes regularly. This is especially important during summer when allergens are rampant.
“You should also wash your face and hair at the end of the day too and save your pajamas for when you go to bed,” advises Dr Hepworth. “This will avoid them picking up any particles which could affect your eyes while you sleep.”
Another tip is to wear your glasses on days when the pollen count is high, and to leave your contacts in the case. “Wraparound sunglasses can also provide additional protection, to help keep allergens away from your eyes.”
6. Get an eye exam
There are many triggers for poor eye health, with a number of seemingly everyday things that can impact it too. These range from too much screen time, to a sub-par diet (remember those antioxidants, folks!) and periods of stress.
On top of reducing your stress levels (we’d recommend using a meditation app) and improving your diet, getting regular eye exams will also help you better protect your eyes. Read our feature on how often should you get an eye exam for more.
“Regular eye appointments are not just about keeping our eyesight in check. Our eyes can provide an early warning to a number of other health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even brain tumors,” says Dr Hepworth.
“Maintaining regular eye examinations is the best and most straightforward way to look after your eye health and vision. It is recommended you visit an optician every two years, unless you have a more complicated eye health history (your optician will recommend how regularly you should be seen).”