How to Protect Your Eyes
If you thought a pair of sunglasses was all you needed to protect your eyes from damage, think again. There’s a lot more you can do to maintain your eye health than, well, meets the eye.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about eye care. “Sometimes people think that overusing the eyes can wear them out, but that’s not true,” said Dr. Thomas Armstrong, ophthalmologist at Armstong Colt George Cohen Ophthalmology and chief of Ophthalmology at Abington Memorial Hospital. “Whether you read a lot or your kids read a lot, it doesn’t hurt the eyes.”
Additionally, some people might fear that the brightly-lit screens on electronic devices can contribute to poor eyesight—a myth Dr. Armstrong said is busted. Although research shows some correlation between nearsightedness and increased use of computers and other electronics, it doesn’t cause damage to the eyes.
“It can, however, cause eye fatigue, which most often is a form of dryness of the eyes,” he said. “When we’re working on a computer or reading, we tend to blink less, so the surface of the cornea loses lubrication, starts to get dry and blurs your vision.”
The real culprits? Age, objects and disease.
Although there are a number of different health issues that can affect the eyes, problems typically begin during early adulthood.
“In young people, the biggest issues with the eyes are refractive errors, which includes nearsightedness [vision is clear up close but blurry far away], farsightedness [vision is blurry up close but clear far away], and astigmatism [focus problem caused by the cornea],” said Dr. Armstrong. Refractive errors occur when the shape of your eye keeps you from focusing well, which can be caused by the length of the eyeball, the shape of the cornea, or aging of the lens.
As people age, the most common eye conditions that occur include cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma.
While many of these issues aren’t preventable, some threats to the eyes are.
“For young people, one of the biggest causes of loss of sight is injury to the eye, such as a blunt trauma from a thrown object, such as a baseball, or from a fight,” said Dr. Armstrong.
He also added that some occupations, such as landscaping, can present certain dangers. “Weed wackers are one of the worst culprits, and mowing lawns can throw up a pebble or a rock.”
In addition to activities, diabetes is another factor that causes eye damage.
“It damages the small blood vessels that supply the blood flow to the retina, which then start to leak fluid,” said Dr. Armstrong. “A buildup of fluid in the back of the eye can cause macular damage; it’s one of the most common ways diabetes affects sight.”
Ultraviolet rays, which are emitted by the sun, can threaten your eyes as well.
“In addition to causing skin damage and skin cancer, the sun’s UV rays can also affect the eye,” said Dr. Armstrong. “They can possibly make cataracts progress at a younger age, cause growths on the surface of the eye, and might be a risk factor for macular degeneration.”
To protect your eyes, Dr. Armstrong advises that you wear eye protection when participating in certain activities or occupations. If you have diabetes, managing the condition is key to delaying or preventing damage to the eye.
Additionally, he recommends purchasing sunglasses that are labeled with 100 percent UV protection to block both UVA and UVB rays. To provide further protection, wear a hat, such as a baseball cap, since it can block up to 50 percent of UV rays.
To combat eye fatigue associated with staring at a computer screen for hours, Dr. Armstrong recommends closing your eyes for five seconds to re-lubricate the surface of the corneas and help your eyes feel better.
And to make sure your eyes are in good health, be sure to get a routine eye exam since many eye diseases don’t really have any symptoms.
“Our vision and our sense of sight is one of our most precious gifts, so we should all take care of our eyes,” said Dr. Armstrong.