The National Eye Institute (NEI) designates May as “Healthy Vision Month,” with this year’s theme being “Eye on Health Equity.” With all the conversations in 2021 surrounding the importance of equal accessibility and inclusion in medicine, now is an ideal time to prioritize eyecare and vision health for everyone. According to the American Optometric Association, an estimated 16 million Americans across all demographics currently have an undiagnosed vision impairment, so annual eye exams are critical for detection and treatment intervention.
Why Vision Health is So Important
As a result of increased exposure to technology screens, the World Economic Forum recently predicted that more than half of the entire global population will need vision correction by 2050. However, the effects of poor vision extend further than just having to wear contacts or glasses. Many serious eye conditions can lead to significant vision loss, weak depth perception, strained ocular muscles, high blood pressure behind the eye, or even total blindness if untreated.
While poor vision is commonly associated with older populations, the fact is that anyone, from a child to a senior adult, can be at risk for a degenerative eye problem. In addition, the state of your vision health can also impact your well-being overall. As the American Academy of Ophthalmology points out, “Eyes are windows to the live action of blood vessels, nerves and connective tissues throughout the body. Problems spotted in the eye are often the first signs of disease lurking elsewhere.” Here are some examples of this:
- Brain Tumors
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Autoimmune Issues
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Sickle Cell Disease
- Nutrient Deficiency
- Medication Toxicities
How to Maintain Your Own Vision Health
In honor of Healthy Vision Month, why not take the crucial leap to invest in your own vision wellness? Below are a few action steps to maintain an eyecare regimen and protect yourself from any related health issues that might arise. Remember: the connection between vision health and total body function should not be overlooked.
- Schedule a Comprehensive Annual Eye Exam.
Eyesight fluctuates from one year to the next, it’s imperative for a doctor to check your vision health on an annual basis. During these exams, an optometrist will test for visual sharpness, depth perception and eye alignment and movement. Your pupils will also be dilated with eye drops to check for underlying health concerns. After the exam, you will receive a prescription for corrective lenses if necessary. In some cases, you might also be referred to a vision specialist for further treatment. In many cases, vision insurance is available to help offset the costs of eye exams, glasses or contacts, and vision procedures.
- Eat a Nutritious Diet to Strengthen Eye Muscles.
Just like the body as a whole, eyes require essential nutrients to maintain their optimal strength, function, resilience and vitality. Foods rich in A, C and E vitamins, antioxidants, minerals such as zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids all contain vision boosting properties. It’s important to consume these nutrients on a daily basis if possible. Think: citrus fruits, leafy greens, avocados, raw nuts or seeds, beans, eggs, salmon or tuna, fortified cereals, berries, carrots, sweet potatoes and whole grains. Don’t underestimate the positive long-term benefits of a natural, healthy diet.
- Research Your Family’s Genetic Vision History.
Many vision problems—whether rare or common—are hereditary, so it’s important to know whether or not genetics could affect your own vision health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a high number of patients with glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, strabismus (cross-eyes), retinitis pigmentosa (night blindness), amblyopia (lazy eye), far- or near-sightedness, and astigmatism inherited the conditions. Some of these issues are easily managed with corrective lenses, but others are severe and dangerous. As such, it’s important to research your genetic history to determine if you’re at risk and then see a vision specialist to be tested.
- Take Protective Measures with Vision Hygiene.
In the same way that teeth require brushing and the body requires showering, the eyes need to be cared for daily too. An intentional ocular hygiene routine can prevent eye irritation, redness, overstrain, and exposure to bacterial or viral infections such as conjunctivitis (pink eye). Below are a few simple ways to practice ocular hygiene in addition to annual eye exams and other interventions:
- Wash your hands before touching the eyes and other surrounding facial areas.
- Remove makeup each night and use a cool compress to alleviate residual puffiness.
- Use the 20-20-20 rules to limit screen time: after staring at a device for 20 minutes, focus on another object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
- Wear sunglasses with 99 percent UVA and UVB protective lenses to shield the eyes from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
- Monitor your blood sugar levels, as those with diabetes (or pre-diabetic symptoms) are at an increased risk for premature vision loss.
- If you have contact, do not sleep in them or wear the lenses past their expiration date, and wash your hands before insertion and removal.