(Family Features) When going through your health checklists, you probably think about your blood pressure, weight and cholesterol levels. But what people often neglect is actually right in front of our eyes – our vision.
Properly caring for your eyes is important for preventing vision loss and blindness, as well as protecting your overall health. As with many other aspects of personal healthcare, routine exams and preventive measures go a long way to ensuring healthy vision and helping you see well for a lifetime.
In observance of Healthy Vision Month this May, the experts at the National Eye Institute recommend following these five steps to take care of your eyes and protect your vision.
Get a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
You might think your vision is fine or that your eyes are healthy, but visiting your eye care professional for a comprehensive dilated eye exam is the only way to really be sure.
When it comes to common vision problems, some people don’t realize they could see better with glasses or contact lenses. In addition, many common eye diseases, such as glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, and age-related macular degeneration, often have no warning signs. A dilated eye exam is the only way to detect these diseases in their early stages.
During a comprehensive dilated eye exam, your eye care professional places drops in your eyes to dilate, or widen, the pupil to allow more light to enter the eye. This enables your eye care professional to get a good look at the back of the eyes and examine them for any signs of damage or disease.
Live a healthy lifestyle.
Living an overall healthy life is good for your eyes. This includes:
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes and other health problems that can lead to vision loss, such as diabetic eye disease or glaucoma.
- Eating healthy foods. You’ve heard carrots are good for your eyes, but eating a diet rich in other fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, or collard greens, is important for keeping your eyes healthy too. Research also has shown there are eye health benefits from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut.
- Not smoking. Smoking is as bad for your eyes as it is for the rest of your body. Research has linked smoking to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration or cataract, both of which can lead to blindness.
- Managing chronic conditions. Many conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and multiple sclerosis, can greatly impact vision, resulting in inflammation of the optic nerve, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and even vision loss. Managing these conditions with the help of your health care provider can often prevent blindness.
Know your family history.
Talk to your family members about their eye health history. It’s important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with a disease or condition because many diseases tend to run in families. This will help to determine if you are at a higher risk for developing any of these problems yourself.
Use protective eyewear.
Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home. Protective eyewear includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards specially designed to provide the correct protection for a certain activity. Most protective eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate, which is 10 times stronger than other plastics.
Sunglasses are a great fashion accessory, but their most important function is to protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When purchasing sunglasses, look for options that block 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation.
You can find more information on these preventive measures and learn about Healthy Vision Month at www.nei.nih.gov/hvm.
Sidebar: Finding an Eye Care Professional
Finding a qualified eye care professional to help keep your eyes and vision in tip-top shape doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Follow these tips from the National Eye Institute to find a doctor in your area:
- Ask family members and friends about the eye care professionals they use.
- Ask your family doctor for the name of a local eye care professional.
- Call the department of ophthalmology or optometry at a nearby hospital or university medical center.
- Contact a national, state, or county association of ophthalmologists or optometrists. These groups, usually called academies or societies, may have lists of eye care professionals with specific information on their specialties and experience.
- Contact your insurance company or health plan to learn whether it has a list of eye care professionals who are covered under your plan.
An important part of good eye health is quality communication with your doctor. Remember to:
- Ask questions until you understand the information your doctor is giving you.
- Take notes, or get a friend or family member to take notes for you. Or, bring a tape recorder to assist in your recollection of the discussion.
- Ask your doctor to write down his or her instructions to you.
- Ask where you can go for more information.
Other members of your health care team, such as nurses and pharmacists, can be good sources of information. Talk to them, too.
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