Dr. Willie T. Ong
As we age, our senses get a little weaker, and our eyes undergo some changes. The eye lens becomes cloudy and loses its flexibility. The back of the eyes (retina) can becomes less sensitive to light, and a condition called glaucoma becomes more common.
How do we preserve our eyesight as we age? A lot of the things I know about the eyes I learned from well-known ophthalmologist Dr. Manuel Agulto. He’s the eye doctor of former First Lady Imelda Marcos. Here are some basic do’s and don’ts concerning eye care:
- Avoid the glare. Don’t stare at the sun and other bright objects. “This is my number one tip to protect your eyes,” says Dr. Agulto. Looking directly at bright lights and laser pointers can be harmful to your eyes. Try to dim TV screens and computer monitors a bit.
- Don’t work in poor light. Reading in poor light can strain your eyes. Use a soft white light that doesn’t produce glare and reflect directly into your eyes.
- Avoid long hours at the computer or TV. Try the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This can help reduce eyestrain, especially if you work in front of the computer a lot. Blinking is also beneficial as it lubricates the eyes. Sometimes being too engrossed in your work makes you forget to blink and rest your eyes.
- Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoking is as bad for your eyes as it is for your health. Studies have linked smoking to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataract and optic nerve damage. These conditions can lead to blindness.
- Avoid dusty areas. Do you notice your eyes turn red after being exposed to dust? This usually happens when riding jeepneys and buses without air-conditioning. Dust gets into your eyes and may cause harm.
- Eat eye-friendly foods. You’ve probably heard that carrots and vitamin A are good for your eyes. In addition, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as kangkong, broccoli, camote tops (talbos) and spinach, is important. The yellow variety of watermelon contains lutein which is good for the eyes. Research has shown that eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids are helpful, too.
- Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses can make you look cool, but their most important job is to protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When purchasing sunglasses, look for the type that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation. Make sure your glasses are scratch-free.
- Exercise. Did you know that 30 minutes of exercise can reduce your eye pressure by 20%? Deep slow breathing can also reduce eye pressure by increasing the drainage of eye fluid (called the lymphatic system). Thus, both exercise and deep breathing may help patients with glaucoma, a condition wherein there is headache and an increase in eye pressure.
- Wear protective eyewear. There is a reason why some athletes wear protective goggles. Even for active kids, these eyewears may save your eyesight. Protective eyewear refers to safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards especially designed for a certain activity (like basketball or swimming). Most protective eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate, which is ten times stronger than plastics. Visit your eye care centers and sporting goods stores.
- Wash your hands. To avoid troublesome eye infections like sore eyes and sty, wash your hands several times a day. Don’t go rubbing your fingers in your eyes after shaking hands with someone. That’s a sure way to get sore eyes. If you wear contact lenses, make sure your hands are clean before putting them in or taking them out. Follow disinfection procedures with your contact lenses.
- Rest your eyes. If you’re talking over the phone and you don’t really need to use your eyes, just close it while talking to your friend. Your eyes will feel rested and fresh.
- Sleep eight hours. Getting enough sleep will help your eyes recover from a long day’s work. Seven to eight hours of sleep is great. Make sure to wash your eyes with clean water every night and every morning when you wake up. This will help keep them from getting infected.
- Check your blood sugar. Diabetics are at higher risk for eye diseases. That is why diabetics need a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. If you have diabetic retinopathy, you may need an eye exam more often. A major study shows that better control of blood sugar levels slows down diabetic eye disease (called proliferative retinopathy). Better sugar control also reduces the need for laser surgery.
- To help improve vision, consider the Bates Method of eye exercises. To rest your eyes, cup your eyes with your hands for a few minutes. Do the Bates Eye Exercise: Hold one finger around eight inches in front of you and another finger at arms length. Then focus your eyes alternately on the near finger and then the far finger. Do this for 20 times to exercise the eye muscles.
- Get a yearly eye check-up. Many common eye diseases (glaucoma, diabetic eye disease and age-related macular degeneration) often have no warning signs. You may think that your vision is fine, but visiting your ophthalmologist is the only way to be sure. You may also visit your optometrist for your reading glasses needs. Remember, your eyes get tired and sick, too. Don’t take your eyes for granted.