Surprising lifestyle factors that impact eye health

As medical knowledge advances and new technologies develop, our understanding of the eye and how best to treat it are constantly improving

Working on the frontline of eye health and providing healthy lifestyle tips is opthamologist Dr Daya Sharma from Eye & Laser Surgeons in Sydney.

“My advice for patients is not to rely on information they find on the internet,” he says. “It’s important not to ignore symptoms and for adults to schedule routine eye checks. Prevention is always better than treatment.”

Communication remains key in combating misinformation among the general public. Here are ten common lifestyle factors that can harm eye health:

UV exposure

Awareness around the importance of protecting the skin against ultraviolet (UV) rays has grown. However, the effect of these harmful rays is less understood. Studies have found UV damage can occur from as early as nine years old, with even annual summer or snow holidays heightening damage. “We don’t have a good public understanding of sunglasses for eye protection rather than fashion,” says Dr Sharma. He recommends the use of wraparound sunglasses to completely limit the amount of UV filtering through to the eyes.

Screen time

Extended screen time is drastically increasing dry eyes and is thought to be causing subsequent cases of myopia in both children and adults. Evidence now suggests that safe UV-free exposure to bright natural light and exercising long-range sight regularly will help counteract the increase in myopia. “A really basic tip is to follow the 20 20 20 rule: for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away,” says optometrist and clinical advisor Daniel Hardiman-McCartney from The College of Optometrists.

Poor contact lens hygiene

There are millions of contact lens wearers worldwide. However, with most starting young, a sense of complacency around hygiene often creeps in. Practices such as topping up contact lens solution with tap water or not changing the lenses on time creates a significantly higher risk of bacterial and fungal infections. Acanthamoeba keratitis, which can cause blindness, is also on the rise. “We need to be careful of patients purchasing lenses online and encourage them to seek yearly eye checks in-between orders,” says Dr Sharma.

Smoking

The deadly consequences of smoking on our overall health are widely understood. Yet there’s concern among the optometrist and ophthalmologist community that public understanding of the impacts of smoking on eye health remain largely unpublicised. “A lot of people aren’t aware of how bad smoking is for the long-term maintenance of vision,” says Dr Sharma. Blindness due to a retinal artery occlusion and retinal disease are just two severe consequences smoking can have on the eyes.

Poor diet

A lacklustre diet might not be as strongly linked to deteriorating eye health as it is to conditions such as heart disease and osteoporosis. However, evidence suggests a balanced diet helps abate the onset of macular degeneration, which can affect people aged over 65 in particular. “Poor diet may also lead to high blood pressure, which we know is bad for the eyes and can lead to sight loss,” says Dr Hardiman-McCartney. When consumed over extended periods, green leafy vegetables, nuts and oily fish, including tuna and salmon, are beneficial.

Alternative and natural treatments

“Crazy ideas are becoming harder and harder to counter,” says Dr Sharma, referring to the rise of alternative and natural treatments. “This misinformation is becoming increasingly prevalent and there are lots of eye diseases that are chronic and low-grade irritation.” While all wellness crazes aren’t harmful, and supplements can sometimes prove helpful, increasingly people are running the risk of adopting potentially damaging alternate remedies before seeking advice from optometrists or doctors.

Harmful tools, chemicals and lights

A cavalier approach to the use of safety equipment and protective eyewear can inflate the number of otherwise avoidable eye injuries and acute eye damage. The culprits for such damage can range from everyday exposure to household cleaning chemicals, more powerful lights including a photographer’s halogen flood lamp or a welder’s torch, or use of hand tools. High-quality safety goggles and eyeguards are recommended.

Complacency and inaction

One of the biggest misconceptions of eye health is the assumption that people suffering glaucoma will be alerted to the condition through experiencing symptoms. “We call glaucoma the silent thief of sight,” says Dr Sharma. The same can also be said of cataracts. Early detection and treatment are paramount in safeguarding sight and consequent independence in old age.

Old make-up

Bacteria can build up in old or out-of-date make-up, such as foundation, mascara, eyeliner and eyeshadow, risking eye infections. The cosmetics industry recommends make-up should be replaced every three months and that application should be with brushes which are thoroughly washed regularly in hot soapy water.

Chronic eye-rubbing

As school and workplace dependence on screens increases or allergens become evident, the reflex to rub your eyes becomes more pronounced. “It may seem like a harmful reflex, but frequent eye rubbing is a sign that things might not be right,” says Dr Hardiman-McCartney. This seemingly benign, but intrinsically habitual, behaviour can affect the eye pressure and damage the cornea.

Also found in Lifestyle Eyesight Health