Keep An Eye On Your Eye Health
We routinely schedule an annual physical exam and a dental checkup as a way of managing our physical and dental health. What is just as important is maintaining our eyesight by getting an annual eye exam.
By making eye care another priority, we may be able to preserve our vision by getting treatment for or slowing the progression of eye conditions, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
While it is important to identify eye diseases that can lead to vision loss, it is also important to identify some of the bad habits that we unknowingly have that can harm our eyes. The following are six bad habits that affect our eyes and how we can break these habits:
Smoking not only irritates the eyes, but studies have found that smoking raises the risk of AMD, an eye disease that is a leading cause of vision loss in older adults. A study published in JAMA Ophthalmology found that people who smoke have a nearly four-fold higher risk of late AMD than people who have never smoked. What’s more, smokers developed AMD five years earlier, on average, than people who never smoked.
Cigarette smoke, for example, can reduce the amount of oxygen reaching tiny blood vessels that supply the eye, and this can lead to vision damage, according to Dr. Ashley Brissette, an ophthalmologist and assistant professor of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.
Dr. Brissette said smoking also reduces the effectiveness of antioxidants and may deplete these levels in the macula, a small area in the center of the retina that allows you to clearly see details of objects in front of you.
2. Staying glued to your smartphone
From banking to texting to newsgathering, we do a lot on our smartphones. But we may be straining our eyes as we scroll, tap, read, and text on the small screens of our phones. Our daily phone activity can cause chronic dry eye symptoms and disrupt our sleep patterns, according to Dr. Michelle Andreoli, an ophthalmologist at Northwestern Medicine and spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Dry eye symptoms include redness, light sensitivity, blurred vision, and scratchy and painful sensation in both eyes. These symptoms can lead to eye strain if we are not lubricating our eyes sufficiently, Dr. Andreoli says. Blinking is a natural way of combating dry eyes, and over-the-counter eye drops can also help lubricate your eyes.
We may also forego a good night’s sleep if we’re staring at the brightness of a smartphone screen at night. With so much light, our brains are telling us that it’s daytime, so we do not get as tired as we should, Dr. Andreoli says.
During the day, the doctor recommends taking a 20-second screen break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away. In the hours leading up to bedtime, Dr. Andreoli says to turn off your phone and other electronic devices. However, if shutting down your devices is hard to do, then dim the brightness on the screens.
3. Not wearing sunglasses
Just as sunscreen protects our skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, sunglasses can block UV radiation from our eyelids and the skin around our eyes. It’s not just our skin that can get sunburned, but our eyes can get sunburned as well, says Dr. Brissette.
Developing photokeratitis, which is sunburn on the eyes, can be extremely painful, according to Dr. Brisette. Not only that, the sun’s UV rays can damage the eye’s surface tissues, the cornea, and the lens, all of which can lead to cataracts, AMD, and cancers of the eye over time. So, to help protect your eyes, it doesn’t hurt to wear sunglasses even on cloudy days.
According to Dr. Brissette, to get the best protection, make sure the label on the sunglasses says, “100 percent UV protection” or “UV absorption up to 400nm,” which also means the sunglasses provide 100 percent UV protection.
4. Sleeping in your contact lenses
Contact lenses are a convenient alternative to wearing eyeglasses. But, it’s easy to sleep in contact lenses because you forget that you’re wearing them. Around 1 in 3 wearers sleep or nap in their contact lenses and increase their risk of infection six- to eight-fold, according to a study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 80-90 percent of contact lens-related eye infections are bacterial, while fungal infections can also potentially threaten vision, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Infection occurs when bacteria and other debris gets trapped between the contact lens and the surface of the cornea, Dr. Brissette says. The infection has the potential to cause permanent scarring of the cornea and loss of vision, she said.
Dr. Andreoli recommends daily contact lenses to her patients because they can “put them in in the morning and throw them away at night.” It gets trickier with longer-wearing lenses because patients may lose track of how long they’ve worn them, she said. And, this may “cause trouble over time.”
5: Rubbing your eyes
We rub our eyes when we’re sleepy, or to scratch an itch, or to get rid of an irritant. But, we may be damaging our eyes instead of comforting them.
Too much rubbing can lead to a condition called keratoconus, a progressive eye disease that causes the cornea to thin and bulge outward into a cone shape, resulting in blurry and distorted vision.
This is not to say that we should never rub our eyes. An occasional non-aggressive rub will get some tears out of the tear gland to get rid of the grit or keep us awake for a few minutes, according to Dr. Andreoli.
To avoid rubbing altogether, using lubricating eye drops or a hot washcloth over the eyes may just be the trick to make your eyes feel better.
6. Sleeping with your makeup on
After a long day at work or a long night out, it’s easy to plop into bed without removing your makeup. Doing this “every blue moon” won’t affect your eyes, according to Dr. Jennifer David of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Northfield, New Jersey. However, if sleeping in makeup becomes a habit, there’s a greater chance of irritation, infections, and inflammation, she said.
What’s more, leaving mascara on too long can also clog the glands attached to your eyelashes and lead to the growth of a stye, a painful, reddish lump that grows along the upper or lower eyelid.
Identifying bad habits now can keep your eyes healthy because eye conditions can cause irreparable harm even before you notice any vision loss, Dr. Andreoli says.