Nutrition Expert Editorial Team March 10, 2016

There are many protective steps you can take to keep your vision as sharp as possible...

1. Wear sunglasses

Protect your eyes from ultraviolet light as it can speed up age-related changes in vision.

“While most cataracts are part of the ageing process, they are made worse by exposure to ultraviolet light,” explains GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. Choose sunglasses or tinted lenses that carry the UV400 mark.

2. Get checked for AMD

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss for over 50s.

“Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial in order to try and prevent vision loss,” says Dr Susan Blakeney, Clinical Advisor to the College of Optometrists.

3. Eat oily fish

Scientists have discovered that the omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, may help stop the tiny blood vessels at the back of the eye from bleeding. This bleeding is thought to be a causative factor in many conditions that can affect our sight.

4. Take a lutein supplement

“Those with the highest dietary intakes of lutein (found in dark-green, yellow and orange fruit and vegetables) have at least a 60 per cent lower risk of developing AMD than those with low intakes,” says Dr Sarah Brewer. Until recently it was thought that any damage caused by poor dietary intake of lutein was irreparable. “However, research published in Optometry shows that taking lutein supplements (10mg daily – five times the average daily intake from diet alone) can improve vision in some cases of AMD,” Dr Brewer adds.

5. Limit screen time

If you use a computer, take frequent breaks to reduce the chance of eye strain and tiredness. It’s also a good idea to look away from the screen during ‘thinking time’ and focus on objects at varying distances away.

6. Get your five-a-day

“Aim for at least 5-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables for eye health,” says nutritionist Rob Hobson. Especially lutein-rich kale, spinach, broccoli and orange-yellow sweetcorn, peppers, apricots and mangoes.

7. See an optometrist

Did you know that 71 per cent of us aren’t seeing as well as we could?

“Have regular eye tests to detect problems earlier rather than later,” says Dr Sarah Brewer. Always report any changes in your vision, headache and any pain in or around your eyes.

8. Time for reading glasses?

As you age you may find it difficult to focus on objects close to you. This problem, known as presbyopia, usually starts at around age 40 - 45 and is so common that it is regarded as a normal change of ageing. “The lens inside the eye becomes larger and stiffer and less easily changes its shape to focus light coming from close objects,” explains GP Dr Trisha Macnair. “The answer is to wear special reading glasses, or change to bifocal lenses.”

9. Stop smoking

If you smoke, do your utmost to stop. Smokers are three times more likely to develop cataracts and four times more likely to experience macular degeneration than non-smokers.

10. Keep blood pressure in check

“Have your blood pressure (BP) checked regularly as a high BP it can damage the eyes,” says GP Dr Rob Hicks. Staying a healthy weight, exercising regularly and reducing salt intake are keys ways to help keep blood pressure low.

11. Take care

Don’t take any chances with your eyes. Wear protective sports goggles to shield your eyes when playing racquet games such as squash – prescription versions are available.

12. Deal with dry eyes

Dry eyes are relatively common, especially if you forget to blink when concentrating on your work or computer screen. “However, due to reduced tear production, some people can suffer with dry eyes all the time and this becomes more common with increasing age,” explains Dr Sarah Brewer. “The standard treatment for dry eyes involves lubricating drops known as ‘artificial tears’. Increasing your intake of oily fish, or taking an omega 3 fish oil supplement, may also help.”

13. Keep blood sugar levels stable

“People with diabetes are particularly vulnerable to glaucoma, cataracts and many other eye problems, which may develop even before the diabetes has been diagnosed,” explains Dr Rob Hicks. “Those at risk for diabetes should have their eyes tested at least once a year.”

14. Eat a rainbow

“People with the highest dietary intakes of antioxidants, found in brightly-coloured fruit and vegetables, are less likely to develop cataracts than those with low intakes,” explains Dr Sarah Brewer, so pile your plate with as many colours as you can.

15. See the light

Read, knit or watch television in good light so as not strain your eyes.

16. Berry boost

“Bilberries, blueberries, cranberries, and cherries and blackcurrants are all high in antioxidants and are great for maintaining the health of your eyes,” says Rob Hobson. Indeed, it has been reported that RAF pilots during the Second World War noticed a marked improvement in their night vision after eating bilberry jam.

17. Eat well

Processed and fried foods, and foods with trans-fatty acids such as those found in margarine, sugar, aspartame and excessive amounts of alcohol, have all been linked to accelerated eye damage.

18. Keep them clean

It may sound unusual, but Professor Dan Reinstein advocates that you wash your eyes every day. “Use the shampoo you would use when washing your hair in the shower, close your eyes and use your fingers to rub your eyelashes,” he suggests. The reason? “The shampoo will clear excess oil from the glands around your eyes, keeping them clean and healthy.”

19. Be gentle

Blepharitis is a condition where the eyelids become inflamed. It often recurs, especially during times of stress. Allergies may also be a factor. “Stop using cosmetic products then gradually re-introduce them, one at a time, to see if you can identify the trigger,” explains Dr Sarah Brewer. You should also switch to hypoallergenic toiletries – the gentlest shampoos, soaps and moisturisers are those formulated for newborn babies.

20. Know when it’s urgent

Symptoms such as visual disturbances, blurring, halos around lights, eye pain or reddening should be seen to immediately. Don’t wait.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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