Protect your vision for a lifetime

By Michael D. Pattison, Occupational Vision Optometrist, U.S. Army Public Health CommandMay 1, 2013

Everyone knows how important your eyes are for your quality of life. Even so, it is estimated that millions of people in the United States have undetected vision problems, eye diseases and conditions that affect their ability to see clearly and effectively or can result in future permanent damage to the eyes. May has been designated by the National Eye Institute to be Healthy Vision Month to help educate people and to promote the early diagnosis and treatment of visual and ocular conditions. So, what are the keys?

Getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam is probably one of the best things that you can do to maintain healthy vision. More than just checking your eyeglasses, during this procedure an eye care professional examines the eyes more thoroughly to look for common vision problems and eye diseases, many of which have no signs or symptoms until the condition has progressed. This comprehensive examination enables you to detect eye conditions and diseases early and can often prevent any subsequent loss of vision.

The question of how often you should have a comprehensive eye exam can be determined between you and your eye doctor and depends on your age, overall health and family history. As you grow older you should have exams more frequently, and some medical conditions such as diabetes make annual exams a must.

And everyone has heard about eating carrots and living healthy. This is true for the eyes as well. Eating a diet with fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens like spinach) are important for eye health, too. There is recent research showing the benefit for the eyes from eating fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and tuna. In addition, maintaining a healthy weight helps prevent you from developing high blood pressure and diabetes, which can also affect the eyes and lead to blindness. In short, eating right will always help to protect your sight. As well, research has linked smoking with the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and optic nerve damage. So, if you smoke, quit. And if you do not smoke, never start.

Also, remember to give your eyes a break. Almost everyone works with a computer, which can cause the eyes to dry out and become fatigued. So, remember to rest your eyes every so often. To help you to remember, try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes or so, look up and away from your computer at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This can help reduce the effects of eyestrain.

Finally, protect your eyes. It is you and your employers' responsibility to protect your eyes at work and yet, it is estimated that 90 percent of all eye injuries would not occur if eye protection was used. Make it a habit to wear the appropriate type of eye protection at all times and encourage your coworkers to do the same. And, when eye injuries do occur, report it to your supervisor. Not only does this make a record of the event that may protect you, it can also result in lessons learned that will prevent similar injuries from happening in the future.

Wearing protective eyewear should not stop when you leave at the end of the workday. Wearing protective eyewear when playing sports or doing potentially dangerous activities around the house is just as important. And don't forget to wear proper sunglasses that block ultraviolet light when you spend time in the sun. As always, a little prevention goes a long way.

So, while May is designated as Healthy Vision Month, it is simply a month to help you remember things that should be done year round. Remember, your eyes are a precious gift and you only have two of them. Give them the care and consideration they deserve so that they last you a lifetime.

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U.S. Army Public Health Command