Keep Your Eyes Healthy

Here, how to protect your sight and common conditions to keep an eye on.

According to the CNIB, 836,000 Canadians live with significant vision loss — including one in 11 adults over the age of 65 and one in seven adults over the age of 75. By 2031, the number of people living with age-related macular degeneration — one of the most common causes of vision loss — will double from one to two million.

There are four main conditions behind the majority of vision loss in Canada, and increasing age puts us at an increased risk for each one.


Glaucoma: this group of diseases causes the fluid pressure in the eye to increase, which can damage the optic nerve and lead to vision loss and blindness. There are no symptoms in the diseases’ early stages, and treatment (eye drops or surgery) can only protect future vision loss rather than restoring sight.

Cataracts: it’s a common condition where the lens becomes cloudy or opaque, blocking normal vision. Some early signs include blurred or hazy vision, or “spots” in front of the eyes. Cataracts are more common in people over the age of 55 than in younger generations, but people of any age can get them.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition where the centre of your vision becomes blurry and distorted due to damage to the macula (part of the retina). Peripheral vision stays the same, but patients have a hard time seeing fine detail, like reading, recognizing faces or driving.

Diabetic eye disease: statistics show that as many as 45 per cent of people with diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy (damage to the blood vessels in the retina). They also face an increased risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma.

All of these conditions are most common after the age of 50, but age isn’t the only risk factor. Genetics also plays a role: people of certain ethnic descent or who have a family history of eye disease are at higher risk. Some conditions affect more men than women (or vice versa). Excessive sun exposure and poor nutrition can also affect eye health.

(For a complete list of eye conditions and more detailed information, visit the National Eye Institute and Canadian Association of Optometrists websites.)

Tips to help save your sight

The good news? Early detection, treatment and prevention are already making a big difference when it comes to protecting vision. Here’s what you can do to protect your sight now, and for years to come.

Know your family history. Many eye diseases like glaucoma run in families. Experts recommend talking to your relatives about eye health so you and your eye doctor can get a “heads-up” about any potential concerns.

Get regular check-ups, even if your vision is fine. Many eye diseases have few or no warning signs, but early detection means the condition can be treated before serious damage occurs. Most adults should have their eyes checked at least once every two years — but make that once a year if you work on a computer, have diabetes or high blood pressure or if you’re over the age of 65.

Eat your veggies… and your fish, lean meat and whole grains. An eye-healthy diet goes beyond munching plenty of beta-carotene. It also includes antioxidants (specifically lutein and zeaxanthin), essentially fatty acids, zinc, and vitamins C and E. Serve up some leafy greens and oily fish along with those carrots.

Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts you at increased risk for glaucoma, and can indirectly affect your eye health by putting you at risk for conditions that affect your eyes, like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Quit smoking (or don’t start). Need another reason to quit? Research has linked this unhealthy activity with an increase risk of developing cataracts, AMD and optic nerve damage.

Stay safe in the sun. Exposure to UV radiation can hurt your eyes as well as your skin, contributing to cataracts, AMD and growths in and around the eye. Wear sunglasses that provide as much UVA and UVB protection as possible and a wide-brimmed hat to shield your eyes. (For advice on how to choose a pair, see Sunglasses: More than great fashion.)

Manage existing health conditions . Maintaining normal blood pressure can help reduce the risk of developing AMD. Studies have shown that keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible can delay the onset of diabetic retinopathy and delay the disease’s progression.

Don safety glasses or a face shield. Injuries are also a top cause of eye trouble, but a preventable one. Make sure you have the right eye protection for your job, playing sports and for certain activities – like some hobbies, cleaning and home improvement projects. Invest in a pair of safety goggles, glasses or a face shield when needed.

Look around. You can fight eye strain by giving your eyes a break every now and then, especially if you’re staring at a computer screen. Experts recommend following the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Try alternating between tasks at work to give your eyes a break. (For more information, see Computer vision syndrome: What you should know .)

Keep your hands (and contact lenses) clean. Anything that touches your eyes should be properly cleaned first to prevent infection and contamination. Take care to properly clean and store contact lenses, and don’t share eye drops.

Talk to an expert about any eye symptoms. Injuries or signs of retinal detachment should be treated as a medical emergency, but any symptoms like irritation, pain and blurry vision should prompt a conversation with your eye doctor or family doctor. Even minor conditions like dry eye can lead to more serious consequences like ulcers or scarring if left untreated.

While many eye diseases don’t have any symptoms, many health conditions like shingles, lupus or multiple sclerosis can involve the eyes. Allergies, medications, herbal supplements and toxins in the environment can also be the cause of eye issues.

Be informed. Looking for more information on how you can protect your eyes? Try:
Canadian Association of Optometrists: Eye Health Library

CNIB: Your Eyes Eye Care

National Eye Institute: Healthy Eyes

Additional source: the American Optometric Association


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