Imagine wearing a blindfold for a day. Now think about all the trivial (but necessary) activities you normally undertake in a 24-hour period - selecting clothes to wear, driving a vehicle, reading a computer screen - but envision doing them without the benefit of your eyesight. People with sight problems must function like this every day. Those of us who enjoy perfect (or near-perfect) vision, however, often taken our eyesight for granted. Yet if we don't take daily measures to care for our eyes, we may end up damaging this sensory tool we depend on so much. Here are simple tips to help keep your eyes in good health.
• Reduce eyestrain. Irritated, watery eyes and an aching forehead could mean that you have strained your eye muscles by overusing them. This commonly occurs after hours of reading, staring at a computer or television screen, driving or any activity that requires prolonged use of your eyes. To reduce strain on eye muscles, hold reading material 30 to 40 cm away and take frequent breaks by stopping to focus on something in the distance as opposed to up close. While at the computer or watching television, make sure that light from lamps or other sources isn't reflecting on the screen. Wear sunglasses while driving and take a break every few hours to rest.
• Protect eyes from harmful rays. Light from the sun, whether direct or reflected off of snow or water, can cause permanent damage by burning the surface of our eyes. To avoid getting burned, wear sunglasses that block 99-100 per cent of UV light (such specifications should be provided on the label), as well as a hat to provide an additional shield from the sun's harmful rays. (Remember that the risk exists year-round, not just in summer.) The same danger also exists at a tanning salon, where you should wear protective goggles to prevent burning the eyes.
• Be cautious with contact lenses. Always wear contact lenses according to the instructions from your eye doctor, who will take into account the type of lens you wear. (For instance, using lenses meant for daily wear overnight could cause permanent damage to the cornea.) Certain people shouldn't wear contact lenses at all. If you are prone to eye infections or have chronic dry eyes, an ophthalmologist may advise against them. Don't wear contact lenses on the job if you work in a dirty environment.
• Have regular checkups. Even if your vision is perfect and you feel your eyes are in good health, it is still important to schedule an appointment to have them checked every two years. Several serious conditions, like glaucoma, have few symptoms and can go unnoticed without an examination. Depending on your age, family history and other illnesses you may have (such as diabetes), you may be advised to have an eye exam more frequently.
• Quit smoking. Studies have found that smoking dramatically increases an individual's chances of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) - the leading cause of blindness. AMD is an eye disease that affects the macula, an area in the centre of the retina responsible for reading and other central vision tasks.
• Healthy diet = healthy eyes. Dark, leafy greens; citrus fruits; and foods high in vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and zinc all promote eye health. Some medical experts assert that eating foods rich with antioxidants, including berries, whole grains, garlic, etc., will even reduce the risk of developing AMD.
• First-aid for eyes. To remove a small particle from the eye, the Canadian Ophthalmological Society advises blinking to work it out - but never rubbing. If you've received a blow to the eye, apply a cold compress for about 15 minutes; cuts to the eye or eyelid, the development of a black eye or blurred vision requires a trip to the doctor. If you suspect you have a chemical burn, gently flush the eye with clean water for 15 minutes and seek medical care as soon as possible. To prevent injuries, always wear safety glasses while working with power tools and other machinery.