A Guide To Eye Health: Are Your Eyes Healthy?

    man with tired eyes

    With one in five of us facing sight loss at some point in life, looking after your eyes has never been more important. Health writer Helen Foster answers the biggest eye health questions.

    A report published for last year’s National Eye Health Week found that 250 people in the UK start to lose their sight daily. Yet half of those cases could have been prevented with a simple eye test.

    While you might think that the only reason to have an eye test is to check whether you need glasses or not, your optician is actually looking for a whole lot of different things. “The back of the eyes can show early signs of health conditions long before symptoms appear,” explains Dr Josie Forte from Specsavers in Plymouth. “We can look for common eye problems like glaucoma or cataracts. The eye can also show up changes associated with diabetes and high blood pressure.”

    How often should I go for an eye test?

    Ideally, you should have an eye test once every two years (every 12 months for children). If you have a family history of conditions such as glaucoma however, your optician might ask to see you more often.

    What should I do if I notice a change in my sight?

    If you experience a problem with your sight between appointments, it’s important to see your optician sooner. “The problems we’re really concerned about are sudden changes in your vision and/or the appearance of lots of black dots (called floaters) in your eyes or bright flashes. These can signify a problem called retinal detachment, which needs to be treated quickly,” says Dr Forte.

    “It’s also important not to dismiss problems like blurry vision or squinting as just signs of ageing. Yes, eyesight changes as we age and many people find they need glasses for the first time once they reach their forties but problems like glaucoma are also more likely to develop around this time. It’s good to get things checked out – not least as the right prescription can stop side effects like headaches.”

    How can I look after my eye health if I use a computer regularly?

    Vision-associated headaches are a common problem for computer users. “Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is associated with symptoms like headaches, blurred vision and dry, tired eyes,” says independent optician and practice owner Nick Rumney of BBR Optometry in Hereford. “This occurs because when we use a computer, the rate at which we blink slows from 6 to 8 times a minute to just 1 to 2 times a minute if you’re really concentrating. This dries out the eyes and tires the muscles.”

    Regular screen breaks are an important way to prevent CVS and opticians suggest you use the 20:20:20 rule. “Every 20 minutes, look at something about 20 feet away, for 20 seconds,” says Rumney. ‘Using a hydrating spray such as Optrex ActiMist can also help keep your eyes moisturised.”

    What about if I wear contact lenses?

    Dry eyes can be a problem for those who wear contact lenses. “Contact lenses decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the eyes so it’s important to only wear them for as long as directed. There’s no harm in wearing them every day, as long as you don’t wear them for more hours than you should,” says Rumney. Ask your contact lens provider how long you can wear yours for.

    How else can I look after my eye health?

    • Eat green and yellow vegetables. What you eat can play a role in good eye health. Nutrients called lutein and zeaxanthin found in green and yellow vegetables help reinforce filters in the eyes that screen out the UV light associated with cataracts. They can also help with a problem called Age-Related Macular Degeneration, which can make everyday activities such as reading more difficult.
    • Don’t forget your sunglasses. Sunglasses also protect against UV and it’s essential to wear them during the summer. “UV light is as harmful to your eyes as it is to your skin,” says Dr Forte. “Pick lenses that have a CE Mark and conform to UK safety standards.”
    • Stub it out. Lastly, quitting smoking helps keep the blood vessels at the back of your eyes healthy. “We think about protecting these vessels in our heart, but the vessels of the eyes are smaller and more fragile,” says Dr Forte.

    Remember you only get one pair of eyes and life wouldn’t be as wonderful without them. So keep on top of your sight-test appointments and see an optician or GP if you notice any significant changes to your sight.

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