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If you’re like most people, there’s a good chance you don’t think about your eyes unless something’s wrong. Maybe you’re starting to feel like your vision has changed (hello, reading glasses!) or maybe your eyes have begun feeling dry and scratchy on occasion.
But consider this: About 12 million people over 40 in the U.S. have vision impairment and around 61 million adults in this country are at high risk for major vision loss. So having a grasp on what you can do to keep your eyes healthy is crucial, says Ryan Parker, M.D., an optometric physician in Denton, Texas. “Your eyes are one of the most sophisticated organs in your body. Understanding what can go wrong, and knowing how to take preventive measures to keep your eyes healthy, is really important.”
Take the quiz below to find out how much you know about maintaining good vision—and learn ways to keep your peepers in top shape.
“You go to the dentist twice a year religiously, even if you aren’t having any problems with your teeth,” says Dr. Parker. “So why aren’t you going for annual eye exams?” Regular eye exams are every bit as crucial as the annual appointments you have with your primary care physician, gynecologist, dermatologist, and other specialists. That’s because your optometrist or ophthalmologist will look for eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration—conditions that are often symptomless, says Dr. Parker. “These conditions can threaten vision as you age, and we’ve gotten much better at picking up their early signs,” he says. “But if you don’t get regular eye exams, you could miss these important diagnoses.”
Dr. Parker says he sees patients all the time who make an appointment only when their vision changes, and then find out they have an eye disease that could’ve been treated much earlier. Often, eye doctors can also detect a systemic condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, by looking at the blood vessels in the back of the eyes.
Okay, so you officially have presbyopia (aka age-related farsightedness) and need reading glasses. But now you’re constantly switching back and forth between the lenses you wear for distance and the ones you need to read. Annoying, right? But so many of your friends have complained that it’s hard to get used to progressive lenses, which have different prescriptions for reading, middle-distance, and long-distance in one pair of glasses. (You look through the top of the lens to see things far away, the middle to focus on intermediate objects, and the bottom to see things up close.)
Here’s the real deal: There are more than 800 types of progressive lenses these days, and the technology has changed so that newer progressive lenses, like the ones from Varilux, are much better than the older ones, says Dr. Parker. (Your local Essilor expert is a great source for Varilux lenses, and you can find one near you here.) “My best advice is to make sure your optometrist or ophthalmologist is up to date on the latest technology and lenses available,” he says. “When you go to a reputable professional who understands these newer lenses and can make sure they’re fitted properly, progressive lenses can actually be quite easy to adjust to.”
And if you try them on and they don’t help, don’t give up! Instead, work with your eye doctor to figure out why, says Dr. Parker. “Research shows progressive lenses work for over 95 percent of the population when the right technology is fitted appropriately.”
While it is true that vision issues or other eye conditions can’t magically be reversed—and conditions like presbyopia will happen to all of us—there is a lot you can do to protect your eye health.
“Things like making sure you protect your eyes with sunglasses when you’re outside and eating a diet rich in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can really help,” says Dr. Parker. “Plus, all of the boring things that we know help our overall aging process like eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep are good for your eyes.” That’s because the same oxidative stress that causes damage in all of our tissues and organs also impacts our eyes. What’s more, living a healthy lifestyle can help prevent certain chronic diseases—such as diabetes and high blood pressure—that can impact eye health.
Answer: Trick question—maybe
It’s a fact that most of us are in front of computers, phones, and TV screens more than any other generation. And while the blue light exposure we get from screen time can increase symptoms of eye fatigue and eye strain, we don’t know what the long-term effects will be, says Dr. Parker. “We’re too early on in the research to tell.”
That said, if you’re dealing with dry eyes, eye strain, blurry vision, or trouble focusing on objects at a distance, talk to your eye doctor about your symptoms. You might need to update your glasses or contacts prescription or consider blue-light-blocking glasses for computer use, says Dr. Parker. Your eye doc will also likely talk to you about the importance of taking breaks to rest your eyes. The 20-20-20 rule is a good one: Rest your eyes every 20 minutes by looking 20 feet away for 20 seconds.