An Overview of Eye Health

What you need to know to keep your vision sharp

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Healthy eyes and good vision are important for your quality of life. But even though you may think you are seeing your best and your eyes do not have any noticeable symptoms of disease, they may not be as healthy as they could be. Having an annual eye exam is the best way to protect your eye health. There are also other steps you can take to prevent common eye and vision problems.

Man having an eye exam

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Factors That Affect Your Eye Health

Taking care not only of your eyes but your body as a whole will help keep your vision sharp and support your ocular health through the years.

Factors that affect your eye health that you can have some influence on include:

  • Proper nutrition: Your eyes rely on vitamins and nutrients to protect against blinding eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.
  • Exposures: Eye damage can result from ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun as well as toxic chemical exposures at home or on the job.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke increases the risk of several eye conditions that can lead to blindness.
  • Health conditions: High blood pressure, diabetes, and other issues increase your risk of eye disease and vision loss. You may be predisposed to these conditions, but lifestyle choices you make can influence their management.
  • Trauma: This may happen unexpectedly, as with a car accident, or as a result of an activity that carries such risk, such as playing a sport, or working in a profession such as welding, which carries a higher risk of eye injury due to metallic foreign bodies.
  • Infections: Your eyes can also be at risk from infections due to improper handling of contact lenses, exposure to contaminated water, viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, or infection after trauma.

Though you cannot change these factors if they apply to you, they are worth being aware of and speaking with your eye doctor about, particularly if you experience vision-related symptoms:

  • Family history: Having relatives with a history of eye disease puts you at higher risk for such concerns.
  • Advancing age: Age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, low vision, and dry eye, for example, may develop as you get older.

Why You Need an Eye Exam

Scheduling an annual eye exam is one of the most important steps you can take in protecting your eyes and vision. In addition, the eyes provide hints about your overall health, which could lead you to discover a concern that you might not have otherwise (or at least as soon).

Here are the top three reasons you should schedule an appointment:

  1. To test your visual acuity: This needs to be checked on a regular basis to make sure you are seeing as well as you could be. Annoying headaches or general fatigue are often caused by slight over- or under-correction of your prescription (or a lack of correction entirely).
  2. To check for eye disease: Many serious eye diseases often have no symptoms. For example, cataracts often develop so gradually that you may not even realize your vision has decreased. Early detection of eye diseases is important for maintaining healthy vision.
  3. To reveal developmental problems: Uncorrected vision problems in children often cause learning and reading difficulties, or contribute to other medical problems such as dyslexia and ADD. Uncorrected vision in children can often cause amblyopia (lazy eye) or strabismus (eye turn), which can cause permanent vision loss if not treated early in life.

Make sure your eye doctor is aware of your complete medical and family history, and use your yearly check-up as an opportunity to provide updated information.

Common Eye Conditions

The most common vision problems are known as refractive errors. They include:

Refractive errors are due to abnormalities in the shape of the eye, which prevent light from focusing directly on the retina. The aging of the lens can also cause refractive errors.

Typically, you will have blurred vision and you might also have headaches, eye strain, and need to squint. These problems are typically corrected by glasses, contact lenses, or laser surgery.

Other eye conditions include:

  • Age-related macular degeneration: This begins without symptoms but can be detected on a dilated eye exam where yellow deposits are seen beneath the retina. As they grow, or as blood vessels leak fluid into the eye, you lose your central vision and may lose sight entirely.
  • Cataracts: This is a clouding of the lens that results in blurred vision, glare, poor night vision, or faded color vision. It can be corrected with surgery.
  • Glaucoma: Glaucoma is damage to the optic nerve from increased pressure in the eye or other factors. It has no symptoms at first (why it's sometimes called the "sneak thief of sight"), but over time the field of vision narrows and you can lose sight entirely.
  • Dry eye syndrome: If you aren't making enough tears, your eyes may feel scratchy, dry, gritty, stinging, or burning. You may have heavy eyelids and blurred vision.
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye): This is inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane that covers the white part of the eyeball and inner eyelid. It can be a contagious form due to a bacteria or virus or triggered by an allergy or chemical exposure. Symptoms include redness, itching, tearing, discharge, and more.
  • Asthenopia (tired eyes): This is even more common with the use of smartphones and other devices. You may feel eye strain, eye soreness, blurred vision, and other symptoms.
  • Choroidal nevus: These are moles in the retina. Like moles on the skin, these warrant annual observation to see if they grow or change.
  • Severe nearsightedness/Lattice degeneration: For patients with very nearsighted eyes (-6.00 diopters of prescription or greater), there can be structural changes in the back of the eye. These changes often can occur in the far periphery of the eye and a dilated eye exam can check for weakness in the retina, a condition called lattice degeneration. Lattice degeneration can increase the risk of retinal holes, tears, and detachments and monitoring these areas can be helpful.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: Your eyes can be damaged by diabetes. Early stages may have no symptoms. With progression, you may see floaters, have blurry central vision, poor night vision, or a hemorrhage in the eye.
  • Posterior vitreous detachment: This is a sudden increase in "floaters" or "cobwebs" as the vitreous separates from the retina due to aging or trauma. It can lead to a retinal tear or detachment.
  • Retinal detachment: You might suddenly see spots or lights, or your vision may become blurred. This condition is an emergency and requires immediate treatment to avoid severe vision loss or blindness.

Tips for Maintaining Eye Health

Getting an annual dilated eye exam can ensure eye problems are caught as early as possible, often before you have symptoms. In addition, there are several things you can do to protect your eye health.

  • Enjoy a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables (especially carrots and dark leafy greens). Also include fish such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Wear sunglasses that block both UV-A and UV-B rays when outdoors.
  • Quit smoking or never start.
  • Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Get the recommended amount of daily exercise for health.
  • Use protective eyewear for sports and for job-related activities. These items are designed to prevent eye injury from trauma or exposure to toxic agents.
  • Clean, disinfect, and handle your contact lenses properly to avoid infection. Likewise, dispose of them as recommended.
  • Work with your healthcare provider to manage high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Take a break when using a screen or doing any other activity requiring ongoing eye focus. Remember 20/20/20: Every 20 minutes, look away at least 20 feet ahead of you for 20 seconds.

A Word From Verywell

Some people can go nearly their entire lives without any significant eye health concerns, while others are not as lucky. The risk to your vision varies depending on your diagnosis. Do what you can to support your eyes and commit to regular exams. Though you may not think there is anything wrong, it's better to confirm than assume.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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