An Overview of Eye Health

What Makes Them Healthy—and What Keeps Them That Way

Healthy eyes and good vision are important for your quality of life. But even though you think you are seeing your best and your eyes do not have any noticeable symptoms of disease, they may not be as healthy as they could be. Having an annual eye exam is the best way to protect your eye health. As well, there are other steps you can take to prevent common eye and vision problems.

Factors That Affect Your Eye Health

Taking good care of your eyes—and your body—will help keep them healthy and help maintain good vision through the years. While you can't modify some risk factors, others are within your control.

Your family history also will determine your eye health in some ways. Having a family history of eye disease puts you at higher risk for developing the disease. Make sure your eye doctor is aware of your complete medical history.

Your eyes need proper nutrition as they rely on vitamins and nutrients to protect against blinding eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

Eye damage can result from exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun. Tobacco smoke also increases the risk of several eye conditions that can lead to blindness. Your eyes are at risk of trauma and exposure to toxic chemicals, either at home, during sports activities, or on the job.

Health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes increase your risk of eye disease and vision loss.

As you age, you are more at risk of eye problems. Age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, low vision, and dry eye may develop as you get older.

Your eyes can also be at risk from infections due to improper handling of contact lenses, exposure to contaminated water, viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, or infection after trauma.

Why You Need an Eye Exam

Scheduling an annual eye exam is one of the most important steps you can take in protecting your eyes and vision. In addition, the eyes provide hints about your overall health.

Here are the top three reasons you should schedule an appointment:

  1. Test your visual acuity. Your prescription needs to be checked on a regular basis to make sure your visual acuity is the best it can be. Annoying headaches or general fatigue are often caused by slight over or under-correction of your prescription.
  2. Check for eye disease. Many serious eye diseases often have no symptoms. Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes vision loss and is commonly known as the "sneak thief of sight." Conditions such as macular degeneration or cataracts develop so gradually that you may not even realize your vision has decreased. Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that may develop in diabetic patients. Early detection of these and other eye diseases is important for maintaining healthy vision.
  3. Reveal developmental problems. Uncorrected vision problems in children often cause learning and reading difficulties, or contribute to other medical problems such as dyslexia and ADD. Uncorrected vision in children can often cause amblyopia (lazy eye) or strabismus (eye turn), which can cause permanent vision loss if not treated early in life.

Common Eye Conditions

The most common vision problems are known as refractive errors, which include:

Refractive errors are caused by the shape of the eye, which prevents light from focusing directly on the retina. The aging of the lens also can cause refractive errors. Typically, you will have blurred vision and you might also have headaches, eye strain, and need to squint. These problems are typically corrected by glasses, contact lenses, or laser surgery.

Other eye conditions include:

  • Age-related macular degeneration: This begins without symptoms but can be detected on dilated eye exam where yellow deposits are seen beneath the retina. As they grow, or blood vessels leak fluid into the eye, you lose your central vision and may lose sight entirely.
  • Cataracts: This is a clouding of the lens, which results in cloudy or blurred vision, glare, poor night vision, or faded color vision. It can be corrected with surgery.
  • Glaucoma: Glaucoma is damage to the optic nerve, from increased pressure in the eye or other factors. It has no symptoms at first, but over time the field of vision narrows and you can lose sight entirely.
  • Dry eye syndrome: If you aren't making enough tears, your eyes may feel scratchy, dry, gritty, stinging, or burning. You may have heavy eyelids and blurred vision.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: Your eyes can be damaged by diabetes. Early stages may have no symptoms. With progression, you may see floaters, have blurry central vision, poor night vision, or a hemorrhage in the eye.
  • Posterior vitreous detachment: This is a sudden increase in floaters or cobwebs as the vitreous separates from the retina due to aging or trauma. It can lead to a retinal tear or detachment.
  • Retinal detachment: You might suddenly see spots or lights or your vision may become blurred. This condition is an emergency and requires immediate treatment to avoid severe vision loss or blindness.
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye): This is inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane that covers the white part of the eyeball and inner eyelid. It can be a contagious form due to a bacteria or virus, or triggered by an allergy or chemical exposure. Symptoms include redness, itching, tearing, discharge, and more.
  • Asthenopia (tired eyes): This is even more common with the use of smartphones and other devices. You may feel eye strain, eye soreness, blurred vision, and other symptoms.

Tips for Maintaining Eye Health

Getting an annual dilated eye exam can ensure eye problems are caught as early as possible, often before you have symptoms. In addition, there are several things you can do to protect your eye health.

  • Enjoy a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables (especially carrots and dark leafy greens). Also include fish such as salmon, tuna, and halibut that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Wear sunglasses that block both UV-A and UV-B rays when outdoors.
  • Quit smoking or never start.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight or lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Get the recommended amount of daily exercise for health.
  • Use protective eyewear for sports and for job-related activities. These are designed to prevent eye injury from trauma or exposure to toxic agents.
  • Clean, disinfect, and handle your contact lenses properly to avoid infection.
  • Work with your health care provider to manage high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Take a break when you are using the computer, smartphone, or doing any other activity requiring ongoing eye focus. Every 20 minutes, look away at least 20 feet ahead of you for 20 seconds.

A Word From Verywell

Being diagnosed with an eye disease can be very stressful and disturbing. Although it may be difficult, do all you can to understand more about the disease. Learning how to manage the disease and how to cope with vision loss that may occur can help relieve your fears.

The amount of vision loss you suffer will vary depending on your diagnosis. No matter what diagnosis you receive, you can find ways to take charge of your vision and eye health. Never be afraid to ask for help from others and remember to stay positive. Know that challenges may arise, but you will be able to tackle them if you are prepared.

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