We often ignore eye care. All it takes is a little attention and proper diet to keep many vision-related problems at bay

We often take our eyes for granted. Often, only when things start to go wrong do we realise how important it is to look after our eyes. There’s no substitute for the quality of life good vision offers. It’s best to be proactive, get regular checkups, live a healthy lifestyle and take care of your eyes. “Regular eye tests are important because your eyes don’t usually hurt when something is wrong. A sight test is vital for your eyes that can pick up early sign of eye conditions, many of which can be treated if found early enough,” says Harshvardhan Ghorpade, ophthalmic practitioner and surgeon based out of Mumbai. An eye test is about more than just finding out if you need glasses, it’s an important general health check-up. For instance, tiny leaks in blood vessels that have been damaged by high blood glucose levels can be a sign of diabetes; miniscule marks inside the eye can reveal high blood pressure you may not have noticed. Swelling in the retina may indicate kidney or liver problem. Elevated cholesterol levels leave signs in your cornea. The earlier you catch eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD, a medical condition that usually affects older adults and results in loss of vision in the centre of the visual field because of damage to the retina) and glaucoma, the better chances of saving your sight. Glaucoma usually has no symptoms and is triggered by pressure on the eye that damages the retina and the optic nerve. If left untreated, it can lead to vision loss, but if caught early, progress can be prevented with eye drops and if uncontrolled, surgery is required. “After 40 years, having an eye exam every two years is vital. Around 50, annual examination should be considered because of the increase in the risk of developing cataract, glaucoma, macular degeneration and such,” says Dr. Harshvardhan. Frequent tests are necessary for those with diabetes, tendency to develop eye disease that runs in families, children, and lens wearers. Visit the doctor if you notice any sudden change, such as blurred vision. Also, never self medicate, you may hold off symptoms that need spotting and treating by a qualified professional.

Right diet

While there is no magic food that will dramatically improve your vision, a healthy diet will help safeguard it. “Your diet and lifestyle can affect your eye health,” says Venu Adhiya Hirani, nutritionist, fitness coach and weight management specialist in Mumbai. Intense ultra-violet rays as well as smoking are also known to contribute to eye problem, she says.

“Protecting your eyes starts with the food on your plate. Studies have shown that nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc and vitamins A, C and E may help ward off age-related vision problems. Anti-oxidants prevent ageing of cells, minimising vision problems that occur due to macular degeneration and cataract,” says Swetha Jairam, fitness, health advisor and weight-loss counsellor in Mumbai. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, oily fish such as tuna and salmon, non-meat proteins such as nuts and beans, and citrus fruits and juices are good for your eye health.

Scientific evidence suggests that Vitamin C lowers the risk of developing cataracts and when taken in combination with other essential nutrients can slow the progression of AMD and vision loss. Vitamin E, in its most biologically active form, is a powerful anti-oxidant found in nuts, fortified cereals and sweet potatoes. It is thought to protect cells of the eyes from damage caused by the unstable molecules called free radicals that break down healthy tissue. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for proper visual development and retinal function. Zinc helps in the production of melanin by bringing Vitamin A from the liver to the retina. Melanin is an essential component that protects the eyes from harmful UV rays. “Eating a well-balanced diet helps you maintain a healthy weight, making you less likely to get obesity-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a leading cause of vision loss in adults,” says Swetha. Stay hydrated by drinking eight to 10 glasses of water every day. Proper hydration may reduce irritation from dry eyes.

Preventive measures

Restrict the amount of sugar, saturated fats and refined flour. Choose whole-grain bread and cereals that have lot of fibre, slowing down digestion and absorption of sugar and starches. Remember that fat content and cooking methods are what make protein healthy or unhealthy. Avoid high sodium intake that may add to the risk of cataract formation. Wear sunglasses if you are out in the sun for a long time. Keep diabetes and blood pressure under control and quit smoking as it increases your risk of eye diseases. “Avoid overstraining the eyes and take regular breaks while performing activities that strain your eyes. Simple eye exercises such as Figure Eights, blinking, far-and-near focussing, zooming etc can help keep eye muscles well-toned,” advises Hirani.

So, the better your general health, the healthier your eyes will be.