If you eat a healthy diet and go to yoga, it’s likely you take good care of your eyes. No? Us either. "Generally, an eye exam is perceived as an obligatory stop on the way to new glasses," says Kyly Zak Rabin, co-founder of Zak. a comprehensive destination for vision in L.A. "For some reason, the eye exam is de-prioritized unless vision is significantly compromised." Our eyes are really important and not just because they help us see the world around us, but because they can often reveal hidden health issues like diabetes and glaucoma. "Recently, one of our patients in her late thirties presented symptoms of double vision," Rabin recalls. "We corrected the double vision with prism glasses but referred her to a neurologist to determine the underlying cause of the problem. Further diagnostic testing revealed that she had a potentially debilitating autoimmune disease, which we were able to treat quickly avoiding further degradation of her health."
So, regardless of whether you have 20/20 vision or not, an annual eye exam is important, but there is a lot you can do between those check-ups to keep your eyes in good health. We called on five eye experts to reveal how you can take care of your eyes so they look shiny bright and healthy and how you can even improve their condition over time.
Blinking is an automatic thing, but a recent study reveals that we naturally blink between one and three times per minute when we're concentrating at the computer, as compared to 20 times per minute when we're not. Blinking can prevent blurred vision, dry eyes and headaches. Blinking helps our tears keep the eyes naturally hydrated, so if we’re not blinking, our eyes can become dry and irritated. "Don't worry if you look odd blinking more often than usual when necessary—your eyes will thank you for it," says Ashish Mathur, eye care expert, Feel Good Contacts.
Limit Screen Time
Dry, tired, and strained eyes caused by screen use is known as computer vision syndrome (CVS), and, at Zak., the team have coined the lack of blinking "Robot Eyes." Rabin notes, "Our digital devices emit a harmful blue light that can cause eye strain and even disrupt our sleep patterns." Mathur adds, "We recommend the rule of 20-20-20. For every 20 minutes of screen time, look at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds. This allows your eye muscles to relax." The more close up work we do, the more potential we have for increasing the progression of nearsightedness. Due to an increased level of near point demand (computer work, emails, texting, social media, etc.), there is a much greater strain on the eye muscles than ever before.
If you have to look any a computer screen all day, then get yourself a pair of glasses with blue light-filtering lenses, even if you don’t need glasses, as they block harmful rays emitted from your tech screen. "We stock these lenses in our Zak. lab so we can make glasses same day and provide immediate relief," says Rabin. Screen brightness is something to keep in check, too. “If it’s set to the highest setting, turn it down slightly and see if it makes any difference to how your eyes feel," suggests Ashish Mathur, an eye care expert at Feel Good Contacts. "An incredibly bright screen can be very harsh on the eyes, but you can minimize the glare by dusting your computer monitor and investing in an anti-reflection cover. Also, take note of the lighting around your computer, try to create equal brightness in your space so there’s no shadowy areas or glare from lamps," he adds.
Easier said than done, we know. But stress can cause eye twitching. "Twitching is commonly caused by eye strain, stress, or fatigue," explains Zakheim. "The first line of defense is an exam to determine the accuracy of your eyeglass prescription, if you have one, as an inaccurate prescription can lead to extreme discomfort and muscle strain, which is the underlying cause of eyelid spasm (twitching)." If you’ve had an eye exam and everything is a-okay but your eye is still twitching, try to address your sleep pattern and stress levels. More often than not, during busy periods at work, we tend to let a proper sleep schedule fall by the wayside. So, whether you find an intense boxing class, relaxing yoga session, or an early bedtime helps you chill out, schedule it in like you would a work meeting and stick to it.
Dry eyes and inflammation of the eyelids can cause you to feel like you have something in your eye when there is nothing there, a burning or gritty feeling, itching, puffiness, watering and even loss of lashes. "The main cause of dry eye is blepharitis, a chronic inflammatory disorder of the eyelids," says Elizabeth Hawkes, the consultant ophthalmic and oculoplastic surgeon at the Cadogan Clinic. "The meibomian glands lie between our eyelashes and secrete the oil outer layer of the tearfilm, which is crucial for tear stability. Disruption to the function of these glands is the leading cause of dry eye."
Thoroughly removing eye makeup at the end of the day can help prevent dry eyes. "This ensures the meibomian gland orifices remain open,” notes Hawkes. “Then place a hot flannel or cotton pad onto closed eyes for three minutes, followed by a firm massage of the eyelids to unclog the meibomian glands."
Build an Eye Tool Kit
Think about it, we have products for every part of our body—but how many of us have a dedicated bag of products for our eyes? There are plenty of products out there that keep eyes looking shiny and feeling comfortable. "After a long day, try Optase Moist Heat Mask ($12) to restore moisture and loosen the naturally hydrating oils in the eyes,” says eye care expert and oculoplastic surgeon, Sabrina Shah-Desai.
Dr. Zakheim recommends getting yourself some "ocular lubricant," commonly known as eye drops. "We recommend the use of preservative-free, artificial tears. Not only do they compensate for dryness but they help in flushing out the allergens that cause allergic conjunctivitis, red, itchy and scratchy eyes. Many people have dry eyes and aren’t aware of it, as they are accustomed to the condition and don’t realize they can feel better until actually treated. Imagine how much better you could feel if you used eye drops on an airplane!?” Try Hycosan Fresh, $12.
Remember that episode of Friends where Rachel had a phobia of eye drops? Well, that happens in real life too (not everyone can use them). But that doesn’t mean you can’t hydrate using an eye mist like Similasan Dry Eye EasyMist, $9 as an alternative. Or, you can add an eye gel into your nighttime routine. "Give your eyes a much-needed boost the night before with Artelac Nighttime Gel. The handy product was developed to aid people with chronic tear dysfunction and can offer up to 24 hours of relief and protection from dry eyes," says Mathur.
Be Sun Safe
"Your eyes can burn too. Cherish them and make sure your sunglasses block at least 99% of UV-A and UV-B radiation," advises Rabin. Ultra-violet light is absorbed by the eye even on cloudy days and, while we’re at it, your optical glasses should have UV protection too. UV radiation is omni-present. Mathur suggests looking for polarized sunglasses to give added protection (due to their ability to block glares by filtering out the horizontal light waves). "Protecting your eyes from UV rays matters equally in cold environments where snow is present, as this increases the risks of reflective rays and snow blindness," he adds.
Snack for Your Sight
Have you ever heard that story about eating carrots and how it improves your eyesight? It has some truth to it. "Not just carrots, but spinach, kale, collard greens, even fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, and halibut contain nutrients that combat dry eye and improve macular health (the macula is the part of the retina responsible for clear, central vision)," explains Zakheim. Mathur agrees and recommends you look to foods rich in vitamin C and E, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc, which can all help maintain healthy eyesight.
If your diet is lacking, Dr. Zakheim suggests looking for eye vitamins with omega-3, fish oils, and lutein, an antioxidant found in green leafy vegetables that is used to protect macular health and assist in the treatment of macular degeneration. Drinking enough water can help prevent dry eyes and keep them looking their shiny best.
Dry eyes are a common occurrence for contact lens wearers. Try being kinder to your eyes by reducing the amount of time you’re wearing lenses, "Ensure you give your eyes a break by wearing glasses intermittently," advises Hawkes. "Contact lenses can reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the front of your eyes and can increase dryness."
Love lenses? Then ask your ophthalmologists about silicone hydrogel lens. “Dailies Total 1 is a daily disposable silicone hydrogel lens that offers a high level of hydration, clarity and comfort, as well as 16 hours of wearing time,” notes Mathur. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the new Acuvue Oasys with Transitions, as they are photochromic lenses that react to UV light and get visibly darker in brighter environments. They signal the beginning of a technology revolution in eye care products.
Surprise, surprise, smoking is bad for your eyesight, among other things. "Smoking cigarettes can lead to red and irritated dry eyes," notes Rabin. "Smoking can also cause age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, uveitis and other eye problems,” warns Shah-Desai. So stub it out for the sake of your sight.