Some 40% of Americans worry more about losing their eyesight than their ability to walk or hear, according to the American Optometric Association's annual American Eye-Q survey. AOA conducts Save Your Vision Month annually to help people preserve vision throughout their lifetime.
"It's easy to incorporate steps into your daily routine to ensure healthy eyes and vision," says Dr. Mitchell T. Munson, president of the AOA. "Eating right, protecting against UV rays and visiting your local eye doctor on a yearly basis are just a few things that can help keep your eyes and vision strong."
Consider these five steps for a lifetime of eye health:
1. Schedule yearly comprehensive exams
Eye care should begin early in life. The AOA urges parents to bring infants 6 to 12 months of age to their local optometrist for a thorough assessment; under the Affordable Care Act, vision coverage is part of the Pediatric Essential Health Benefit.
Millions of children (up to age 19) now have access to yearly comprehensive eye exams and follow-up care and treatment, such as eyeglasses, through their local doctor of optometry. Comprehensive exams performed by an optometrist not only evaluate a patient's vision, but can also detect certain serious health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
2. Protect against UV rays
Long-term exposure to the sun poses significant risk not just to your skin, but to your eyes as well.
No matter what the season, it's extremely important to wear sunglasses, choosing a pair that blocks more than 95% of UVA and more than 99% of UVB radiation.
3. Give your eyes a break from digital device use
Two-thirds of Americans spend up to seven hours a day using computers or other digital devices such as tablets and smartphones. This constant eye activity increases the risk for computer vision syndrome (CVS) and can cause problems such as dry eye, eyestrain, headaches, neck and/or backache, and fatigue. The AOA recommends that people practice the 20/20/20 rule (every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away).
In addition, a poorly designed computer station can also contribute to eyestrain. Be sure to correct factors such as improper lighting or uncomfortable seating, viewing angles and reading or working distances to eliminate visual stress and discomfort.
4. Eat your greens
As part of a healthful diet, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day — particularly the leafy green variety.
Six nutrients — antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, essential fatty acids, vitamins C and E, and the mineral zinc — have been identified as helping to protect eyesight and promote eye health. Since the body doesn't make these nutrients naturally, it's important that they are incorporated into a daily diet and, in some cases, supplemented with vitamins.
5. Practice safe wear and care of contact lenses
More than 40 million Americans use contact lenses to improve vision. While some adhere to the medical guidelines for wearing contacts, many are breaking the rules and putting their vision at risk.
Contact lens wearers who don't follow their optometrist's recommendations for use and wear can experience symptoms such as blurred or fuzzy vision, red or irritated eyes, pain in and around the eyes or, a more serious condition in which the cornea becomes inflamed, also known as keratitis.