It’s important to be diligent about protecting your eyes as you age. Degenerating eyesight related to the normal aging process can sneak up on you: You might suddenly find yourself holding your cellphone farther away to see it, or going home with eyestrain at the end of the work day. Age-related changes to your eyesight may be unavoidable, but there are ways to help mitigate some of them.
“Our eyes age the same as the rest of our bodies, meaning diet and lifestyle make up a big part of how well our eyes age,” said Dr. Anne Negrin, a board-certified ophthalmologist.
While you can’t turn back the clock, check out these tips for slowing it down.
Take to the shade to protect your eyes
You’re probably familiar with suggestions to wear sunscreen to protect your skin, but sunlight also affects your eyes. While a small amount of ultraviolet light helps the body regulate its sleep cycles, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, too much exposure to the UV light in sunlight can be harmful.
“Protecting your eyes from the sun from an early age, 365 days a year, slows cataract progression, lowers your risk of macular degeneration and helps prevent chances of melanoma in the eye,” Negrin said. She suggests wearing hats, sunglasses or visors to protect your eyes from the sun year-round, even if you’re not outside for very long.
Paying attention to nutrition can help you protect your eyes as you age. “Foods rich in the pigments found in our retinas help keep our eyesight sharp as we age, since the retina loses cells each year,” Negrin said. Green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, along with carotenoid-rich foods such as sweet potatoes and carrots, are helpful. They help the retinal photoreceptors do their job to see light and distinguish objects in different contrast settings.
Eating right can reduce bothersome symptoms as well. For example, many people experience drier eyes as they age, Negrin said, and it’s especially common in post-menopausal women. “Healthy fats such as omega-3s, found in certain fish and nuts, are essential,” she said. “Drinking lots of water is key to keeping our tear glands able to produce adequate tears.”
The retina — the thin tissue that lines the back on the eye and serves as a “screen” to receive focused light — is packed with blood vessels, and keeping vascular health strong is important to your eyesight as you age.
“Healthy vessels mean less likelihood of strokes in the eye, wet macular degeneration and other vision-threatening diseases that can come with advancing age,” Negrin said.
Smoking increases the risk of vascular problems, so avoid smoking or enroll in a cessation program to help you quit. Other ways to improve vascular health and protect your eyes as you age include getting adequate fiber, avoiding saturated fat, keeping your blood pressure at normal levels and losing weight to help reduce strain on your blood vessels. While you can’t halt aging, paying attention to your health can help you protect your eyes and your eyesight.
This post is based on content that first appeared in SmileInSight by Starmount.