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10 ways to keep your eyes healthy in the pandemic

woman during pandemic outside on balcony wearing face mask and sunglasses

Vision is priceless and our eyes aren’t replaceable, so if there was a way — or ways — you could keep them healthy during the coronavirus pandemic, you’d be interested, right? Even incorporating one or two eye-healthy habits into your routine can be rewarding in the long run.

Here are 10 ways you can work toward a lifetime of happy, healthy eyes, even if you’re stuck at home:

1. Get some sun

You might already know that sun exposure equals vitamin D. But did you know maintaining a healthy vitamin D level can also benefit our eyes?

Research has shown that chronic vitamin D deficiencies can raise the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or diabetes, according to the American Optometric Association. While diabetes doesn’t automatically mean eye disease, it can lead to a potentially vision-damaging condition called diabetic retinopathy.

Since sunlight exposure should always be balanced, try to stay mindful of how much time you’re spending in the sun to avoid too much UV radiation. If you’re working from home during the pandemic, try to take a few breaks during the day to go outside. Do some stretches, go for a quick walk or start a garden.

If vitamin D from sunlight isn’t an option, try substituting with cold-water fish (think pink salmon, sardines and canned tuna) or talk to your doctor about supplements to help offset low exposure.

2. ...But wear sunglasses

Just like sunlight can cause short-term and long-term damage to your skin, it can also lead to problems with your eyes.

Too much sunlight over time may elevate the risk of developing cataracts or AMD. It can also cause photokeratitis, an “eye sunburn” that causes temporary pain, redness and light sensitivity.

Sunglasses with 100% UVA/UVB protection are your best tools available during extended periods of sun exposure.

3. Scope out eye-friendly groceries

Adding certain foods to your diet can give long-term eye health a real pick-me-up. These include:

  • Omega-3s such as EPA and DHA – Salmon, herring, mackerel and tuna are all packed with these fatty acids. Flax seeds can be substituted in their place, but they don’t pack quite the same punch.

  • Vitamin E – Give whole-grain cereal, almonds, hazelnuts or spinach a shot.

  • Other antioxidants – Grab a pack of real dark chocolate — the higher the cocoa content, the better. Artichokes and blueberries are also high in eye-friendly antioxidants.

4. Schedule regular eye exams

A comprehensive eye exam, even when you think you don’t need one, is one of the best things you can do for the health of your eyes.

It might not seem like it, but your eyes are complex little organs with detailed features both inside and out. When you have them examined by an optometrist or ophthalmologist, they can see every visible component in high definition. Early detection of a disorder such as glaucoma or AMD, neither of which cause pain or discomfort when they first develop, can be the difference between maximizing healthy vision and permanent vision loss.

Eye doctors can even use eye exams to find major health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune disease and even certain cancers.

5. Stay active

Regular exercise can help decrease your risk of serious eye disease, including glaucoma and AMD. And if you already have a condition, regular activity will make it easier to keep it under control and lower your risk of developing complications. 

6. Don’t smoke

There are many reasons why smoking is bad for your eyes: It increases the risk of developing or worsening vision-threatening disorders such as uveitis, macular degeneration, cataracts, dry eyes and diabetes (which can lead to diabetic retinopathy).

Smoking during pregnancy can even cause a newborn to be born with strabismus (crossed eyes) or an underdeveloped optic nerve — a leading cause of child blindness.

7. Reduce alcohol consumption

On top of temporarily affecting vision and tear production during consumption, too much alcohol can have a negative impact on your long-term eye health.

Excess alcohol intake can raise your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration and lead to increased cataract formation, according to the American Optometric Association. A study in the journal Nutrients has also shown that heavy drinking can lead to vitamin A deficiency, which has the potential to cause several serious eye-related symptoms.

8. Don’t forget about your contacts

Contact lenses are conveniently invisible once they’re on your eyes, so they’re easy to forget about. But if they aren’t daily disposable lenses, you probably need a daily contact lens care routine to keep them free from germs and imperfections (some of which can lead to serious eye conditions and infections).

It might help to set a recurring phone alert as a reminder to remove your contacts, rinse them and keep them in fresh contact solution every night before bed.

9. Take frequent screen breaks

It’s hard to remember to take screen breaks when you’re surrounded by phones, computers and TVs, but overdoing it on screen time can lead to temporary eye strain, double vision and dry eyes. It may also lead to the development of myopia (nearsightedness).

Remembering the simple 20-20-20 rule can lead to more comfortable viewing throughout the day:

  • For every 20 minutes of screen time,

  • Look at an object at least 20 feet away,

  • For 20 seconds or longer.

10. Protect your eyes with safety glasses or goggles

If you’ve worked in your yard before, you know it doesn’t take much for a weed wacker to send debris hurling toward your face. An otherwise tiny pebble or twig fragment can do serious damage to an eye. Eye protection offers a shield between you and the elements.

Outside of gardening, safety glasses or goggles can also protect your eyes during certain sports, hobbies and day jobs that could potentially result in injury.

Ben Franklin wasn’t referring to eye safety when he said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” but we think he would’ve been okay with it.

READ NEXT: How to take care of your eyes while in self-quarantine

Notes and References

  1. Diet and Nutrition. American Optometric Association. Accessed March 2021.

  2. Exercise for Eyes and Vision. American Academy of Ophthalmology. May 2012. 

  3. Cataract. American Optometric Association. Accessed March 2021.

  4. The Adverse Effects of Alcohol on Vitamin A Metabolism. Nutrients. May 2012.

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