Our eye health is often neglected. We tend to forget about it unless something pops up, like a piece of dirt leads to irritation or you realise that bus number isn't as clear as it should be and go for an eye check. But your eyes need some TLC just like the rest of us. And certain lifestyle factors that can impact eye health. So there are some things you can do to protect your eyes on a daily basis. We've got the lowdown below.
Lifestyle Factors that Can Impact Eye Health
While many vision problems result from physical abnormalities to the shape or structure of the eye, some forms of visual impairment are down to lifestyle factors or as a result of infection that may be within our control. So there are some things you can do to prevent them. Here are 6 lifestyle factors that can impact eye health and ways to get on top of them.
1. Infections: Toxoplasmosis
We are lucky in the western world that climate and geography spare us from the most common infectious causes of blindness. Sadly, these largely preventable forms of blindness, that affect the poorest children in the developing world can simply result from dirty drinking water contaminated with parasites or bacteria.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite found in the soil worldwide and may be found in infected meat such as pork or in cat faeces. For most people with a healthy immune system an infection is mild or harmless, although it may remain ‘dormant’ in the body.
How to Prevent Toxoplasmosis:
There are some simple measures that can help prevent most infections. Avoid consuming undercooked meat, have good hand hygiene especially around cat litter and wear gloves while gardening or handling sand if pregnant.
Measles, rubella and meningitis are a severe complication of the illness and can tragically cause blindness if contracted during pregnancy (affecting the developing baby). Thankfully these conditions are now relatively rare due to the success of universal childhood vaccination programmes.
2. Vitamin A
We often hear that a carrot will help you see in the dark! Carrots are a rich source of vitamin A, a vitamin that is central to the normal function of the retina (the lining of the eye responsible for vision, in particular night vision). Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness but it's thankfully a rare condition.
Another of the lifestyle factors that can impact eye health is smoking. Smoking may not be a direct cause of visual impairment but it has been linked to both dry eye and some forms of cataract development. This is likely due to exposure of the surface of the eye to the toxic cocktail of chemicals found in cigarette smoke over prolonged periods. Smoking is also an important risk factor for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) In case you need another reason to give up!
While we're all conscious of protecting our skin from the suns’ harmful rays, both the surface and back of the eye are equally vulnerable to damage from excessive UV light. A simple fix is to wear a good pair of sunglasses, winter and summer. Think of it as sun cream for the eyes, and don’t forget the children too!
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults of working age in the western world. It's a common complication of diabetes. It is caused by changes to the blood vessels in the back of the eye. While there is a large genetic component in the development of Type 2 diabetes, the combination of poor diet/obesity and sedentary lifestyle is driving the rapid increase in this preventable disease.
6. Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
The leading cause of vision loss in the western world is Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). It does not cause total blindness but instead effects the macula - an area of the retina that is responsible for central focus, leading to a blind spot or vision loss in the centre of our vision. This is important for daily tasks and detail such as seeing faces, driving, writing.
How to treat:
There is no treatment for early AMD (where there may be no symptoms). Research has shown that smokers have double the risk of AMD. Although AMD has a significant genetic link, a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, low blood pressure and a diet rich in fish and green leafy vegetables may help prevent it.
There has been ample research in to role of nutritional supplements in prevention or treatment of established AMD. A significant trial called the Age-related Eye disease studies (AREDS) showed a reduction in the risk of late ARMD by 25% in those taking a combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, copper, zinc and beta carotene OR lutein and zeaxanthin. It is not a cure and sadly cannot restore vision but may hold promise for future treatment.
Lastly, diet is one of the lifestyle factors that can impact eye health. While the design of the eye is a scientific marvel - so much of its’ complex function is dependent on maintaining healthy nerves and blood vessels. A healthy diet can reduce your risk of developing diabetes and can slow down or prevent the progression of AMD (age-related macular degeneration).
Therefore, it makes sense to fuel your nerves, blood vessels and eyes with a balanced diet, (rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, low in salt and ‘bad’ fats) regular exercise and avoid smoking. By keeping blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars low and essential vitamins in easy supply - a happy body will help to maintain healthy eyes.
Please note, this blog is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice.
It’s always best to consult your doctor before taking any new supplements, treatments or remedies if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or on medication.
Checked and updated: 5 September 2021