Nimmi Mistry, professional services optician at Vision Direct, has put together a list of everyday habits, both immediate and long-term, which have been linked with affecting your vision. Here, she offers expert advice on how we can make simple daily changes to help look after our eyes.
- Drinking coffee
Many of us love a coffee to kick start the day. However, excessive caffeine intake has been associated with eye spasms and elevations in intraocular eye pressure (IOP), increasing your risk of developing glaucoma.
“How much is too much?” will depend drastically on a myriad of personal factors, but some good indicators will be heightened nervousness, noticeably elevated heart rate, insomnia, headaches, muscle tremors, and eye spasms. Regulating caffeine intake to a moderate level will decrease your risk of developing eye conditions.
- Not getting enough sleep
Sleep hygiene has been found to be at the root of many issues like mood, ability to learn, concentration, and information retention. Eye health is just another in the extensive list of things poor sleep quality negatively contributes to.
A study published in the BMJ Open, reporting on 409,053 participants, shows a link between poor sleep habits and the development and progression of glaucoma. These poor habits are characterised as getting too much sleep, not getting enough sleep, snoring, daytime sleepiness, and insomnia.
A good night's sleep is generally considered to be 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. There’s more to sleep hygiene than going to bed on time, too. Reduction of blue light in the hour window before bed, finding conditions to have uninterrupted sleep, and reducing caffeine intake can all help mitigate poor sleep.
Sleep hygienists also recommend reducing liquid intake around bedtime, as a midnight stroll to the loo is the number one factor in sleep interruption.
- Unprotected UV exposure
Unprotected exposure to UV radiation can lead to an eye condition called photokeratitis. UV light has the potential to damage all structures of the eye, which ultimately leads to decreased vision. The key reported conditions are corneal damage, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Luckily, the solution is as simple as it is obvious: sunglasses. They act as UV protection to your eyes in the same way that sunscreen does to your skin.
It’s good to bear in mind that not all sunglasses are created equal in terms of providing protection, and at some point will need replacing. Some key signs are wear and tear, scratches, and the appearance of the lens getting lighter. If you find yourself in the sun frequently, owning a pair (and regularly wearing them) would be a good investment for general eye health.
Don’t be fooled by the clouds either, even days characterised as overcast or cold but still bright are damaging to your eyes. As deceptive as it can be, those pesky UV rays still penetrate through on bright but cold days, and are especially dangerous around snow, as UV rays bounce off and hit your eyes from multiple directions.
- Staring at screens for too long
What’s your poison? TikTok? Gaming? YouTube?
Extended sessions on your phone or laptop can cause “digital eye strain” which manifests itself as headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and upper body pain around the neck.
The blue light emitted, short in wavelength and high in energy, can cause damage to the retina, and prolonged sessions mean that we blink less, leading to dry eyes and discomfort.
To reduce the risk of eye damage from blue light, it’s important to take regular breaks and follow good eye care habits like adjusting screen brightness and contrast, while ensuring the screen is at the correct distance. Using a screen filter can also help to reduce blue light exposure.
You can also incorporate the 20-20-20 rule into your daily routine. This involves getting into the habit of looking away from your screen every 20 minutes and looking for 20 seconds at an object that is 20 feet away.
- Using make-up past its shelf life
Many make-up users may become very attached to a great mascara or beautiful (yet pricey) palette that we finally found. Whilst you may be keen to hang on to it, expired make-up can act as a host for infection-causing bacteria, which in turn can contaminate the eye.
Make-ups come with an expiry date, but all can degrade over time based on their shelf-life. This shelf-life depends on how it is used and stored. Using your fingers or unsterilised applicators increases the chance of bacteria being transferred and your risk of picking up an infection.
The remedy to this issue is to replace make-up products when required. The length of use is usually displayed on the bottle or tub icon on the back of the product.
You should also follow general good hygiene practices such as not sharing make-up and storing it properly to avoid contamination.
If you have pre-existing eye conditions, you may want to pick up hypoallergenic products to reduce the risk of infection.
- Skipping your veggies
Not consuming adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables can contribute to deficiencies in Vitamins A and C, both effective antioxidants.
Over time, these deficiencies may increase the risk of developing eye conditions such as macular degeneration, cataracts, and night blindness.
An effortless way to stave off future eye issues is to eat your greens! A study by Harvard conducted on 100,000 men and women over 25 years found that people who eat around 10 servings of leafy greens per week are 30% less likely to develop glaucoma than those who don’t.
Smoking has been on the decline in the U.K., yet 6.6m of us still smoke according to the latest ONS data from 2021. Smoking causes oxidative stress, which has the potential to cause inflammation to many structures in the eyes, for example, the optic nerve head.
Unfortunately for smokers out there, there is no way to counteract the negative effects already caused by smoking. However, quitting smoking and speaking to your doctor or eyecare professional about taking certain supplements is a step in the right direction.
If you need help quitting, the NHS offers tips and resources in their Stop Smoking Services section.
- Forgetting to remove contacts lenses
It’s easy, when comfortable, to forget you are even wearing contact lenses on occasion, however, failing to remove them before certain activities such as sleeping or swimming can have dire consequences for your eyes.
Both leaving in your contact lenses overnight and wearing them for longer than the recommended time can lead to potential eye infections. Overwearing your contact lenses leads to symptoms of dryness and in severe cases can cause corneal swelling by reducing the oxygen supply to your eye.
Some easy steps to avoid this include leaving alarms on your phone to remove lenses before bed, having some reminders near your toothbrush, and ensuring lenses are stored and cleaned properly.
- Rubbing your eyes
We rub our eyes mostly due to tiredness, itchiness, and discomfort, but the issue with this lies in the spreading of bacteria or infections.
Think about it, just a simple trip down to the supermarket puts you, and by extension your hands, in the path of many people’s germs. Consequently, rubbing your eyes is an easy way to spread bacteria to the eye.
On top of this, intense and excessive rubbing can increase the intraocular pressure of the eye, a predisposing factor in the progression of glaucoma.
Good personal hygiene and being on top of washing your hands should help minimise the risk of delivering bacteria and dirt to your eyes. If your eyes are persistently itchy, it might be worth visiting your optician or pharmacist.
- Being stressed
Stress can directly affect our visual health, from mild to complex issues depending on levels of stress and predispositions and vulnerabilities.
If stress-related vision problems are under control, they tend not to be as problematic. The most common stress-related eye disorders are eye twitches and visual fatigue.
The number one remedy is a visit to the optician if you are experiencing these symptoms. Remedies can include stress-reducing activities such as headspace, exercise, and breath work.