ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – May is “Healthy Vision Month.” Healthy vision is not simply 20/20 visual acuity but a range of habits and routines that lead to and maintain proper eye health and comfortable sight.
Actions you can take to ensure healthy vision can be grouped into three broad categories:
- Protect your eyes from damage
- Enhance your eyes resilience through healthy habits
- Get routine eye exams to catch potential problems early
Each of these actions can be broken down into some basic tips discussed below:
1. Protect your eyes
Wear protective eyewear and sunglasses. Specific to the military population, it is important to train as you fight. Obtaining and wearing your issued Military Combat Eyewear Protection for garrison training and during combat not only helps protect you from flying debris and other hazards but also protects your eyes from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Deployed active duty personnel can even reorder prescription glasses, gas mask inserts, and Military Combat Eye Protection lenses online at https://srtsweb.amedd.army.mil/WebForms/GEyes/Forms/GEyesHomePage.aspx.
Additional information on the use of sunglasses, as well as personal protective eyewear for military and sports activities, is available on the Defense Centers for Public Health – Aberdeen Tri-Service Vision Conservation and Readiness eye protection overview page.
Store and handle contact lenses safely. First and foremost, ensure your hands are clean before you handle your contact lenses. For service members who may find themselves in an environment where normal hygienic practices may be difficult, consider some pre-planning before the event.
It may be best to wear your eyeglasses and not your contact lenses for certain field exercises and operations. If you do choose to wear your contact lenses, ask your eye doctor about contact lenses that are safe for flexible extended wear. These allow enough oxygen to reach your eyes even if you sleep in the lenses for a few days. Using extended-wear lenses enables you to spend some time in the field until you are in an area where proper hand hygiene is possible. Always carry contact lens solution, a clean lens case, and back-up eyeglasses.
Speaking of lens cases, ensure you maintain a clean case and replace it at least every 2–3 months. Topping off used solution in your case is a habit that has been linked to eye infections, so be sure to always use fresh contact lens multipurpose cleaning solution to rub, rinse, and soak your contact lenses.
2. Enhance your eyes’ resilience to disease
Eat a healthy diet. Foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, like colorful fruits and vegetables, are important for eye health and functioning. In particular, dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, and collard greens, as well as carrots, sweet potatoes and egg yolks all have vital nutrients for your eyes.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends fish that have high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, like tuna, salmon and halibut, for eye health as well as general health. Service members can stick to healthy eating habits by the many options provided by their installation dining facilities. If additional assistance is desired, you should consult with your primary care manager or a dietitian at the local military medical treatment facility, or MTF.
Get proper sleep and rest for your eyes. Most sleep experts recommend 7–9 hours of sleep nightly for adults in order to feel rested and for the body to maintain its normal restorative functions. At times, obtaining sufficient sleep is a challenge for service members due to heavy workloads, long duty hours and shifting training schedules. Information about sleeping disorders, impacts, and tips to improve sleep quality can be found at the Army’s Performance Triad website and the military’s total force guidance at https://health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Total-Force-Fitness.
Your eyes need rest, too. With the advent of computers and digital screens, much of our work life is spent staring at monitors and reading up close. To give your eyes a break, follow this easy tip: the “20-20-20 Rule.” About every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something about 20 feet away.
Exercise regularly. This is no secret: regular exercise is important for your overall health. Military members need to be in good physical condition in order to be ready to fight and win. Among other health benefits, the CDC’s recommended physical exercise for adults has been shown to reduce risk of diseases associated with excess weight, such as diabetes. Exercise can reduce risk of chronic eye conditions or even blindness associated with diabetes.
Stop Smoking. Not smoking is possibly easier for some than others, but it is definitely a worthy endeavor for overall health. Beyond the harmful implications for the rest of the body, smoking has also been linked to harmful conditions for the eyes and vision.
According to the CDC, smoking doubles your risk for the development of age-related macular degeneration, a disease that affects the central retina and can lead to blindness. For smokers, the risk for cataract development increases by two to three times. Cataracts cause the lens inside your eye that focuses light to become opaque, blocking normal vision. If you are a smoker, visit your local MTF for resources to help you stop smoking.
3. Get routine eye exams.
Service members need an updated eye exam at least every 2 years to remain optically ready with current gas mask inserts and two pairs of glasses. It is also important for family members and civilians who think they ‘see fine’ to get routine eye health exams. Even if nothing is wrong, preventive eye exams can keep you seeing better longer.
A person with 20/20 visual acuity may still have other areas of vision that need to be addressed: color vision, depth perception, eye movements and alignment, focusing, and contrast sensitivity, among other areas. Also important are examinations of the internal eye structures, such as the lens, retina, optic nerve, and blood vessels, to detect early signs of problems. Some eye conditions have few or no symptoms until later stages, so early detection is important for prevention and any necessary treatment, and to ensure you maintain individual medical readiness.
These seven actions can help ensure that you maintain healthy eyes to sustain your healthy life. Vision Ready is Mission Ready! See your installation optometrist for a routine eye exam today.
Service members interested in additional information can search the comprehensive list of resources, including links to providers, facilities, and eligibility and benefit information, on the Department of Defense’s Vision Center of Excellence website at https://vce.health.mil/Service-Members.
The Defense Health Agency supports our Nation by improving health and building readiness–making extraordinary experiences ordinary and exceptional outcomes routine.
NOTE: The mention of any non-federal entity and/or its products is for informational purposes only, and not to be construed or interpreted, in any manner, as federal endorsement of that non-federal entity or its products.