Love your eyes and they’ll love you back
I think Helen Keller got it right. “Of all the senses, sight must be the most delightful,” she once said.
If there is one resolution you make for 2017, make it this: “I will love and care for my eyes.”
When our eyes have problems, we usually act on them solely because it’s required in that moment. When it’s sunny outside, we put on sunglasses: When an eyelash falls in, we fish or flush it out; and on the rare occasions we go see an eye doctor, we usually just nod our heads and say, “Sure, I’ll take the contacts.”
Consider how critical healthy vision is to our daily lives. The ability to walk without assistance, the ability to drive without fear of hitting someone, the ability to see faces–these are incredible gifts we take for granted, and we have our eyes to thank for them.
But we don’t thank our eyes. Too often, we don’t even give them the time of day.
One reason we neglect our eyes is the pervading myth that eye health remains largely out of our control. After all, we didn’t choose to be nearsighted, did we? And we certainly didn’t choose for our vision to start deteriorating after age 50.
Eye diseases do occur, but here’s the good news: For all that is outside of our control, eye health is largely within our control. In fact, the common eye problems that many people experience later in life are surprisingly manageable and sometimes preventable.
In the lab, for example, I study age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, which is the number-one cause of vision loss for people over the age of 65. AMD occurs when there is a loss of visual cells in the retina, triggering a progressive deterioration of vision smack-dab in the middle of our field of view. As a result, people with AMD are often forced to use their peripheral vision to see objects and faces clearly.
Even though no effective treatment for the vast majority of cases of AMD currently exists–my colleagues and I are diligently working to change that statement–there are many ways you can fight its onset, as well as the onset of any number of other vision-related health issues.
A great place to start is with the food we eat. Smart food choices can help prevent the irreversible disease of AMD from taking hold or, at a minimum, slow its progression. Mediterranean diets, including fish, fruit, nuts and dark, leafy greens, contain the minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants that keep eyesight sharp and resistive to the onset of AMD. And there are other ways:
- Exercise. Research shows that an active lifestyle involving exercise three or more times a week can lower your risk of developing AMD by 70 percent. That’s worth every drop of sweat.
- Protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays. Your mother wasn’t wrong when she said, “Don’t look at the sun directly,” but we can do her one better. Wear sunglasses that block 100 percent of UV rays, and for maximum glare protection, get them polarized. Remember, just because the lens color appears to be dark doesn’t mean they offer any UV protection at all.
- Visit your eye care professional. Many of the early signs of AMD can only be detected by examining the eye before one notices any significant change in the vision. This examination is especially important for people who have a family history of AMD as there is strong evidence of a genetic link in this disease.
The relationship you have with your eyes is like any other; it requires a little tender love and care to keep it healthy. The difference is when you go blind to the needs of your eyes, it’s often too late.