Thursday October 14 is World Sight Day, and this year’s global campaign is “Love Your Eyes”. The International Association for the Prevention of Blindness encourages us to prevent eye disease with a healthy lifestyle, protect our eyes with small daily actions, preserve vision with regular eye exams, and prioritize eye health. Bilateral Rb Survivor. Abby White, shares 10 ways you can love your eyes every day.
Do you love your eyes? Do you treasure your ability to see, to easily navigate and interact with the world, to learn, work, connect, and play without visual barriers? Do you translate your gratitude into action that will protect your eyes and sight for years to come?
I was born with cancer in both eyes – my right eye is now a prosthetic, and the sight in my left eye is now decreasing due to late effects of radiotherapy that saved the eye in infancy. My limited sight is precious, yet still I push my eye too much at work, exacerbating the severe dry eye resulting from radiotherapy. I can do more to love my fragile eye.
Protecting our eyes and vision should be a top priority for everyone, whether we have 20/20 vision, or impaired sight like me. It may not be the easiest or most natural thing we do, but investing in our visual health is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. Here are ten ways you can love your eyes more right now.
Prevent Eye Disease with a Healthy Lifestyle
Adopting a healthy lifestyle can prevent many eye diseases, or reduce their effects when the condition is already diagnosed. A healthy lifestyle includes eating a balanced diet, regular exercise, and avoiding tobacco and secondhand smoke.
A healthy lifestyle is especially important for growing children. Eye and vision issues in childhood can significantly impact a child’s overall development, education, and quality of life.
1. Eat for Eye Health
A balanced diet helps us reach and maintain a healthy weight, and overall well-being. Among many physical and mental health benefits, a healthy diet prevents or helps control conditions like diabetes and hypertension that can negatively impact eye health and vision. A range of micronutrients also help maintain healthy functioning of the eye and vision.
Limit your consumption of sugars and fats in junk food and processed foods as much as possible. Enjoy them in moderation, but keep a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, pulses and wholegrains. Here are some of the top micronutrients for your eyes, and the best food sources for each of them.
Functions: Supports health of the cornea (front portion of the eye) and the retina (inner lining of the eye). Prevents night blindness by helping the eye adapt between bright light and darkness.
Best Sources: retinol
Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese.
Milk products and spreads fortified with vitamin A.
Liver and liver products such as liver pâté – this is a particularly rich source of vitamin A, so you may be at risk of having too much vitamin A if you have it more than once a week. Pregnant women should avoid liver and liver products for this reason.
Best Sources: beta-carotene – the body converts beta-carotene into retinol.
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale.
Vegetables with yellow, red, and orange flesh, such as sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, squash,
Fruit with orange-yellow flesh, such as apricots, peaches, papaya, and mangoes.
Functions: Strengthens orbital bones and ocular muscles, and maintains the immune system, reducing risk of eye infection. Delays age-related diseases such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Strawberries, blackcurrants, tomatoes.
Citrus fruit such as oranges, lemon, and grapefruit.
Green peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes.
Functions: Delays age-related diseases such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Nuts and seeds
Green leafy vegetables
Wheatgerm – found in cereals and cereal products.
Plant oils – such as rapeseed (vegetable oil), sunflower, soya, corn, and olive oil.
Omega 3 + Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Function: Lowers risk of dry eyes. Supports health of the retina (inner lining of the eye).
Cold water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, arctic char and trout.
Eggs (many are omega-3 enriched).
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil.
Fortified foods like some margarines, juices and yogurts.
Lutein + Zeaxanthin
Functions: Delays age-related diseases such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale, and romaine lettuce.
Bright coloured vegetables like sweetcorn, peppers,
Nuts, particularly pistachios.
Selenium and Zinc
Function: aid absorption and conversion of antioxidants in the body. Supports health of the retina (inner layer of the eye).
Best Sources: Selenium
Enriched bread, pasta and rice.
Brazil nuts and walnuts.
Beef and chicken.
Tuna and cod.
Best Sources: Zinc
Beans and legumes
Bread and fortified cereals
Eating a balanced diet of fresh foods ensures we take in essential vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, processed foods do not contain these nutrients in sufficient quantities.
When you are unable to regularly eat a healthy fresh diet, vitamin supplements may be necessary to help keep you and your child healthy. They are however, no substitute for a healthy diet.
Consuming too much of an individual vitamin or mineral can cause negative effects. Monitoring your intake is important to avoid these effects. Consult your doctor for further advice about taking supplements safely.
When stress is high and routines are disrupted by major life events, appetite may change or demands may limit the time available for organized meals. It becomes especially important to plan in advance to help protect your physical and mental health, including your eyes.
Prepare some healthy meals and snacks in advance of busy times. If you’re focused on caring for a sick relative or yourself, this is the time to ask relatives and friends to donate healthy home-cooked, store-bought, or restaurant delivered meals to ensure you and your family eat well.
2. Drink Water for Dry Eyes
Drinking plenty of water is also important for eye health, as well as general physical and mental health. But most adults and children are chronically under-hydrated. We don’t drink enough, and the good fluids we do drink, we don’t consume steadily enough throughout the day to be of real value. Many of our favourite drinks also contain caffeine, a diuretic that leaches water from our system.
The eye needs water to stay lubricated, comfortable, and functioning effectively. Dry Eye occurs when the eye doesn’t produce enough tears, or the right kind of tears for lubrication, causing irritation, inflammation, and pain. Dry eye is a particular risk for people who have received treatment for retinoblastoma.
Aim for at least 2 litres (8 glasses) of water per day. Caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, sports drinks, sodas etc.) are dehydrating, and should not be included in this total. Water, whether plain or flavoured, is best. If your diet is very high in fruit, vegetables, soups, and smoothies, you may want to adjust your total daily water goal down a little. Be mindful though that fruit smoothies can be high in calories due to the natural sugars in fruit, and the density of fruit in the smoothie.
Put a glass or bottle of water beside your bed, so you can drink it first thing in the morning, before you get up. Take a few quiet moments to drink slowly, so your brain has time to make the connection that you are drinking and reap the full benefit. Pay attention to it, and set the intention to drink regularly throughout the day. You will be more aware of the need to drink water in the busy hours ahead, and respond.
If you find yourself craving snacks, check in with your body to identify whether you need a drink. Dehydration can feel like hunger pangs, and a glass of water can often settle the discomfort of endless cravings.
Cataract is a clouding of the lens that focuses light into the retina. Blurring vision worsens over time, like looking through a dirty window. Without surgery, cataract can cause serious vision loss.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the macula, part of the retina that controls central vision and enables the eye to see clearly. Central vision is vital for activities such as reading, driving, focusing on objects, and recognizing faces. AMD is a progressive condition, and treatment options are limited.
Glaucoma causes a build-up of fluid and increased pressure in the eye that damages the optic nerve, leading to impaired vision and potential blindness.
Cardiovascular exercise specifically has been shown to lower intraocular pressure, and increase blood flow to the optic nerve and retina. Exercise can also prevent or help control other medical conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, which have vision-threatening complications.
Research also indicates an alarming rise in myopia (near-sightedness) among children, requiring corrective glasses. The trend suggest that almost 50% of the global population will be neart-sighted by 2050. Outdoor play is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of your children needing prescription glasses, and also to slow the increasing rate of myopia in children.
Playing in natural sunlight helps children use their eyes in different ways, focusing at distance rather than on objects close up such as a screen, art project, book or game. Experts recommend 1-2 hours of outdoor play per day in natural sunlight to support eye health, visual development, and overall health.
Exercising for your eyes doesn’t require a great investment of time or resources. A brisk 30-minute walk will get your blood flowing. Do this five days a week, and you’ll easily reach the 150 minutes of weekly exercise recommended by the World Health Organization.
How about cycling, swimming, running, dancing. Even active gardening or housework is quality exercise. So put on your favourite music or an engaging book and clean those cobwebs away, knowing you’re looking after yourself in the process.
Make exercise a priority, for your eyes and your overall wellbeing. Many people say they don’t have time to exercise, but taking care of our eyes, body and mind should be one of our top priorities every day. Schedule time for regular daily exercise that you will enjoy. Find the best activity and the best time for your schedule, and commit to exercising at least 3 to 5 times each week.
Smoking can worsen the effects of conditions like diabetic retinopathy, Graves’ disease, and dry eye, and increases risk of developing sight-threatening conditions. Two of the most common causes of blindness, cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), occur more frequently in people who have a history of smoking. Smokers are twice as likely to develop AMD, compared with non-smokers, and they are more likely to develop it at a younger age.
Smoking also alters the body’s ability to extract or absorb micronutrients from food. So a smoker or passive smoker will likely have lower amounts of the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain overall eye and general health.
Smoking risks your baby’s vision too. Babies born to women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to:
Avoiding tobacco smoke of all kinds, including secondhand smoke, is one of the best ways to protect your eyes and your overall health. If you are already smoking, quitting is one of the best ways to invest in your long-term health, and the health of your loves ones around you.
A healthy lifestyle can help prevent some eye diseases, and maintain overall good health, but it also important to protect our eyes. Sunlight, infection, and prolonged exposure to screens all have a cumulative effect, and accidents can unexpectedly damage the eye. Take daily steps to minimize the impacts and love your eyes.
5. Take Care of Your Eye Make-Up Hygiene
If you wear make-up, it’s vital to maintain good hygiene and safety. Poorly maintained products, or incorrect use of eye cosmetics can cause problems such as drying out the ocular surface and allergic reactions. Give your eyes a break from cosmetics whenever they feel or look irritated, and always seek advice from an eye care professional. Here are some key tips for make-up safety and hygiene.
Choose the right products:
Avoid powder eyeshadow that is more likely to get into your eye and cause irritation. Instead use cream eyeshadow, and carefully clean your applicators regularly.
Avoid pencil eyeliners as they can scrape the rim of the eye, leading to infection. Opt instead for gentle liquid eyeliners.
Avoid fiber lash mascara as the tiny fibers can irritate eyes.
Never use in-store testers as they increase the risk of infection, and never share make-up for the same reason, even with your sister or best friend. Bacteria can be transferred unseen on brushes and applicators, and on the product itself.
Don’t use eye make-up beyond the expiry date as preservatives become less effective and bacteria may begin to grow. This is especially important for products with a creamy formula, such as concealer, mascara, and eyeshadow.
Clean your make-up brushes regularly and thoroughly: many products are available, but a simple, low-cost approach is to sanitize your brushes with 99% isopropyl alcohol and wipe them clean with a paper towel.
Put contact lenses in before applying make-up, to ensure make-up particles do not contaminate your tear film – this increases risk of infection.
Don’t apply make-up inside the lash line: applying make-up along the inner eyelid, or “waterline” blocks the oil glands that secrete fluid to protect the cornea – the clear front part of the eye. You also risk introducing bacteria directly into the eye.
Never apply make-up while moving, whether walking, as a passenger in a vehicle, or when driving – even when sitting in traffic. The risk of accidental trauma to the eye is high, and when driving, the risk of distraction causing injury to others is also high.
Remove all make-up before going to sleep, especially eye make-up. Make-up can become transferred to your eyes while you sleep, causing irritation and infection.
Remove contact lenses before removing your make-up, to avoid damaging the lens and causing unnecessary discomfort.
6. Wear Sunglasses
The sun’s intense ultraviolet rays can damage the eyes over time, leading to conditions like cataract and glaucoma. To shield your eyes from this harmful solar radiation, wear sunglasses providing 100% UVA and UVB protection, and/or a broad brimmed hat. Don’t be guided only by the sun’s brightness, or by how stylish the sun protection looks with your outfit. Here are some points to consider:
Everyone’s eyes need sun protection, regardless of age. Children are most at risk as they spend more time outside but few wear sunglasses, and the damaging effects of sun exposure are cumulative.
UV rays can penetrate through clouds, and cloud can also create glare, increasing eyestrain. So our eyes need sun protection on cloudy days just as much as when the sky is clear.
UV rays can reflect off snow, sand and water, so sunglasses are especially important in these environments.
Larger lenses and wrap-around glasses offer greater protection than smaller lenses and open frames.
Not all sunglasses give 100% UVA and UVB protection – check the label carefully before you buy, and ask the seller if you are unsure.
Ask your eye care professional for advice If you are unsure about what sunglasses are right for you, or when you should wear them to protect your eyes.
Invest in a good pair of sunglasses, keep them handy in your bag, or with your front door keys, and wear them with pride every day. They will help protect your eyes from the strain and harmful effects of UV light, and reduce your risk for vision-damaging conditions later in life.
7. Avoid Eye Injuries
Eye injuries are a major cause of preventable sight loss around the world, especially among children. Protecting sight is especially important when vision has already been lost to retinoblastoma or another eye condition.
There are many simple things you can do to prevent eye injury, and protect your children’s eyes, and your own. Follow these practical tips to protect eyes and sight while enjoying everyday and festive activities.
Buy toys that are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level. Avoid toys like darts, play swards and pellet guns as these have a high risk of eye injury. Always supervise children using potentially dangerous toys and ensure they know how to use them safely.
Teach children how to handle sharp implements safely, For example, holding scissors by the handle, point downwards, when walking, and passing them to other people with the handle forward, Insist children never run while holding scissors, pencils, cutlery or other sharp items and explain to them why this is important.
Insist everyone wears protective sports glasses or safety glasses when playing sports such as squash, tennis and cricket, or when paint-balling.
Wear protective helmets and face guards for activities like skateboarding, rollerblading and cycling. Brain injury may significantly impair vision, and has other potentially devastating effects.
When a child already has vision loss, such as from retinoblastoma, parents often struggle to strike a balance between letting the child participate in games and sport as any other child, and being careful to protect remaining vision. Games and sports help children develop coordination and confidence. Some people with reduced vision prefer to avoid contact sports, while others thrive in these activities.
With your child’s agreement and involvement, tell coaches and team members about their low vision, so the community can help take precautions while actively engaging your child.
Safety at Home
when using cleaning products, ensure the spray nozzle is directed away from your face and away from your children. Ensure children are not running around in your immediate area while you use spray cleaners.
Do not mix ammonia and chlorine. Reactive poisonous vapours severely irritate eyes and can be potentially fatal to children and adults.
Do not touch your eyes or your child’s eyes while using cleaning fluids of any kind. Always wash your hands thoroughly first.
Keep children out of the garden when mowing or using a strimmer, and wear goggles or safety glasses. Stones, twigs and other small debris can be thrown up by the rotar blades, causing severe eye injuries. The nylon thread In power strimmers can also break and whip the eye. While these accidents are rare, they are often devastating, so prevention is vital.
Trim low hanging branches and brambles to prevent children and adults running into them.
When using pesticides and other chemicals, ensure the spray nozzle is directed away from your face and away from your children. Ensure children do not run into your immediate area while you use these sprays.
When working with chemicals, power tools or other potentially dangerous materials, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from splashes, fumes, sparks, flying fragments and dust. Either keep your children well away, or insist they also wear eye protecton when near your workspace.
All fireworks can be dangerous and even lethal when incorrectly used. Avoid injury by attending organised community displays. However, if you hold your own display, obtain safety advice first and thoroughly read all instructions to minimise your risk, and risk to others.
Keep everyone well back before lighting fireworks. Instructions will indicate a safe distance for individual fireworks. Always wear eye protection, and never lean over the firework when lighting it. Never go back to a firework once the fuse has been lit, and do not allow anyone else to do this.
Never allow children to play with or light fireworks, sparklers or matches. Always supervise children holding sparklers, and show them how to hold the sparkler safely. Sparklers can create temperatures of over 1,800°F – hot enough to melt gold – and must be handled with great care.
8. Know How to Treat Eye Injuries
The eye is a very delicate organ, and requires special care. Accidents can happen unexpectedly, even when we diligently take precautions to prevent them. Be prepared for the unexpected to reduce the risk of permanent vision damage – learn how to treat eye injuries correctly and confidently, and always seek prompt professional medical care.
Don’t panic. Stay calm, and help to keep the patient calm – they will be more likely to follow your lead when you are calm.
Don’t rub the eye. This is a natural response, but the pressure can worsen an injury. Children, and even adults, may need a lot of support to keep their hands away from their face.
Don’t delay medical attention. Seemingly minor eye injuries can quickly worsen, causing serious, possibly irreversible loss of vision.
Locate your nearest emergency eye care facility in advance, so you know where to go if you need to. Seeking care from a local eye care professional is usually better than going to the general emergency centre. Emergency facilities are not well equipped to manage eye care, and will usually refer on.
Avoid aspirin. This medication thins the blood and can worsen bleeding in the eye.
Don’t use ointments or medicated drops without seeking medical advice. Open containers may not be sterile, risking infection. Certain medications may also reduce the doctor’s ability to thoroughly examine the eye.
Debris in the Eye
Encourage your child to blink repeatedly to help remove the debris. If this does not work, gently pull the upper lid down onto the lower lid, and ask your child to blink several times. The lower eyelashes may sweep the debris away from the upper eyelid. If this too does not work, keep the eye closed and seek medical help.
A “black eye” is caused by bleeding under the skin around the eye. The bruising will initially appaer purple-blue and fade over several days.
Although most black-eye injuries are minor, extensive bruising can be a sign of serious injury, including a fractured skull. Bleeding within the eye is also serious, and may potentially damage vision permanently.
As soon as possible after the injury, apply a cold pack to the eye area for about 15 minutes. This will help to reduce swelling and bruising. A bag of ice or frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth will do. Use gentle pressure, but do not press directly on the eye.
Seek immediate medical care if the patient has blurred or double vision, bleeding in the white or coloured part of the eye (iris) or from their nose, or uncontrolled pain.
Chemical Splashes and Burns
Always seek immediate medical care. If possible, take the bottle containing the chemical to the hospital as this will help the doctors provide appropriate care. While you are waiting for emergency help, do not bandage the eye or use any other covering.
Gently open the eyelids as wide as possible with your fingers. Flush the eye with clean water for at least fifteen minutes. Encourage the patient to roll their eye around as much as possible as this will help to thoroughly wash it.
Physical Trauma to the Eye
Seek immediate medical care. Don’t rinse the eye, apply pressure or try to remove any foreign objects. This may cause further injury.
Protect the eye from pressure by taping a shield over the bones surrounding it. If you do not have an eye shield, use a household object like a paper plate or the bottom of a foam cup. If nothing is available, cup your clean hands over the injured eye until you reach specialist medical care.
9. Reduce Digital Eye Strain
Screens are now ubiquitous in our lives, but it’s important we reduce our daily screen time, and take regular breaks to avoid Computer Vision Syndrome. Symptoms include eyestrain, headache, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain.
Excessive gadget use and close work have shown to increase the risk for myopia (nearsightedness), particularly in children. So, it is especially important to raise awareness of good visual hygiene among children, to work with them to reduce their screen time as much as possible, and give them engaging alternatives that promote far focus use of their eyes, such as imaginative and exploratory outdoor play, and sport.
To work efficiently, and minimize the symptoms:
Take regular breaks to rest and refocus your eyes.
Practice the 20-20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes spent using a screen, focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Create an ergonomic environment to maintain good posture and reduce musculoskeletal symptoms. Pay attention to the position of your screen in relation to your seating so you can work in comfort without straining your eyes or you neck and back.
Adjust screen brightness, contrast and text size settings to view content more clearly and comfortably, and reduce eyestrain.
Carefully select and position lighting to reduce glare on the screen.
Reduce the symptoms of dry eye by blinking more often and using supplemental lubricating drops if needed.
When was the last time you had your eyes, or your children’s eyes, checked?
10. Book an Eye Exam
Plan for regular vision screening and comprehensive eye examination, and understand the difference between them.
A vision screening is a relatively short process that can indicate a vision problem or potential problem that needs further investigation by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. A vision screening cannot diagnose specific conditions.
A comprehensive eye exam involves your eye care professional taking a detailed medical and family history to understand your risk factors, followed by checking your vision, eye power, and eye health. Dilating eye drops will be used to ensure the professional has a clear view of your eye.
Ensure that eye examinations are a part of your routine medical examination, and that of your loved ones. Everyone should have regular eye exams throughout life. Due to changes in lifestyle and increase in near work among today’s children, it is important for children and teenagers to also have regular routine eye exams. Leading eye care organizations recommend the following.
We hope these tips inspire you to take action to love your eyes today and every day. To celebrate World Sight Day this year, why not pledge to have a sight test! The IAPB aims to inspire one million people to have their eyes tested. Pledge to #LoveYourEyes today, to help them towards the million target.
About the Author
Abby’s father was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma in Kenya in 1946. Abby was also born with cancer in both eyes. She has an artificial eye and limited vision in her left eye that is now failing due to late effects of radiotherapy in infancy.
Abby studied geography at university, with emphasis on development in sub-Saharan Africa. She co-founded WE C Hope with Brenda Gallie, responding to the needs of one child and the desire to help many in developing countries. After receiving many requests for help from American families and adult survivors, she co-founded the US chapter to bring hope and encourage action across the country.
Abby enjoys listening to audio books, creative writing, open water swimming and long country walks.