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Easy ways to protect your eyes

  • Story Highlights
  • Vision problems are more common as we age; good habits can help
  • Protect eyes with sunglasses to keep out dangerous UV rays
  • Exercise and eating veggies also help keep eyes healthy
  • Get checked out to detect early problems before they blossom into disease
  • Next Article in Health »
By Danielle Braff
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Health

Been squinting a lot lately? Have to move your magazine six inches away from your eyes to read it? Vision problems creep up on you as you age. But good habits -- not unlike the ones you've already established to protect your heart, bones, and brain -- can help keep your eyes healthy. Try these simple tips to safeguard your vision now and for years to come.

The 30s

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends baseline eye-disease screening at age 40.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends baseline eye-disease screening at age 40.

Don't forget your shades. You need to fend off the sun's ultraviolet rays at every age. That's because UV rays can cause eye diseases, increased nearsighted­ness, and skin cancer around the eyes, says Alice Lyon, M.D., director of vitreoretinal service at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and ophthalmologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Wear sunglasses anytime you're outdoors or driving (keep a spare pair in your car), even if it's overcast -- UV rays can do harm when it's cloudy, too. Health.com: The best sunglasses for healthy eyes

Make over your workspace. Spending hours in front of a computer can cause tired, aching, and dry eyes, and possibly eyestrain headaches, according to the American Optometric Association. Avoid these woes by placing your monitor as far as possible from your eyes, but not so far that you have to squint.

Also, look away from the screen periodically to rest your eyes and change focus, and try a low-voltage floor lamp in place of bright overhead lights. An antiglare screen filter (available at most office-supply stores) may help, too. Learn more about common eye conditions »

Look at LASIK. Your vision stabilizes by your early 30s, making it an ideal time for this surgical fix, says Clyde Kitchen, M.D., an ophthalmologist in California and the author of "Fact and Fiction of Healthy Vision: Eye Care for Adults and Children." An eye doc should confirm that you're a good candidate.

LASIK does pose some risks: dry eyes, especially during the first six months after the procedure, and occasionally a halo affect during the dusk and evening hours. And note that even with surgery you may need reading glasses in your 40s.

The 40s

Work up a sweat. Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight help prevent diabetes, a chief cause of vision impairment that may lead to blindness.

"Doctors are diagnosing people in their 40s and 50s with diabetes in nearly epidemic numbers," says Scott Greenstein, M.D., an ophthalmologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and an ophthalmology instructor at Harvard Medical School.

To stay out of that club, get at least a half-hour of aerobic exercise three times a week and limit sugary treats. Health.com: How your family can help you change your eating habits

Get checked. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a baseline eye-disease screening at age 40 to detect early signs of vision problems like cataracts, which block light from reaching the retina; age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease that causes deterioration of the retina; and glaucoma, optic-nerve damage caused by increased pressure in the eye.

A full checkup should also include the usual eye-muscle-movement tests and a retinoscopy to check for astigmatism, nearsightedness, and farsightedness. After the baseline screening, follow up with annual eye exams unless your doctor recommends more frequent checks.

The 50s plus

Eat your greens. Dark, leafy greens like spinach, collard greens, and kale contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which seem to lower the risk of AMD. Get plenty of these veggies, along with foods containing vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, and zinc, all shown to reduce the risk of vision loss. (As for vitamin supplements, recent evidence doesn't show a clear benefit, but more studies are underway.)

The omega-3s in fish like salmon or tuna may help, too, according to a recent review of studies. Aim for two servings a week. Health.com: How good fats can help you

Also, what you've always heard about carrots being good for your eyes is, in fact, true. One study found that women who ate more than two servings per week decreased their risk of glaucoma by 64 percent. Plus, the high levels of beta-carotene in carrots help preserve night vision.

Lubricate your eyes. As many as 6 in 10 women experience dry eyes during and after menopause. Natural tear production tends to decrease with age, dipping hormone levels can exacerbate dryness, and eyes may be more easily irritated by environmental factors like dust, medications, and contact lenses, says John Huang, M.D., an assistant professor in Yale University's department of ophthalmology.

Check with your doctor to rule out an infection or an autoimmune disease, but don't worry -- chances are the doctor will prescribe eye drops (such as Restasis), or advise you to use some preservative-free artificial tears as needed. Omega-3s may help stimulate tear production, too. Try eating more salmon or tuna or opt for a supplement.

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Copyright Health Magazine 2009

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