It takes around 21 days to develop a new habit. There is no reason why the health of your eyes shouldn’t be a part of your 2017 healthy habit reset. According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, approximately half a million Canadians live with significant vision loss that impacts their quality of life. Every year more than 50,000 Canadians will lose their sight.
Vision loss affects the employability of Canadians, as only one-third working-age adults with vision loss hold jobs. This, coupled with the high rate of depression affecting the vision-impaired elderly, is reason enough to make healthy vision habits a priority now. Few realize that 75 per cent of vision loss can be treated or prevented by making simple lifestyle changes. Adopting healthy eye habits now can keep you from becoming a statistic.
Habit 1: Wear sunglasses
Your eyes are just as susceptible as your skin to getting sunburnt, causing UV damage to accumulate on the surface of the eyes. Over time, UV exposure can put you at higher risk for cataracts (which cloud the vision), thickening of eye tissue, and skin cancer around the eyes.
Form the habit of wearing lenses with UVA and UVB coatings to reduce those risks. Be cognizant that polarized lenses reduce glare from the sun, but don’t offer additional sight protection.
Habit 2: Practice smart contact lens wear and care
Develop the habit of washing your hands thoroughly before putting in and removing contact lenses. Incorrect care of lenses can result in keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea, or can allow unwanted bacteria such as lactobacillus, acinetobacter, methylobacterium, and pseudomonas, to enter your eyes, which may lead to corneal ulcers.
Clean your lens case with hot water weekly. If your eyes are red and irritated, wear glasses to give your eyes a break. Ensure you are disposing of your contacts by the recommended expiry date — especially if you use daily or weekly-wear contacts. That means from the date you opened the contact lens, not the number of days you have worn them. Wearing your contact lenses longer than the recommended daily period can starve your eyes of oxygen, causing corneal neovascularization, which can lead to vision loss.
Habit 3: Quit smoking
Smoking has been linked to blindness, including cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (the cause of blind spots and often severely impaired central vision), and uveitis (inflammation of the eye's middle layer, or uvea). Each are serious eye diseases that can result in complete vision loss. Smoking can also contribute to diabetic retinopathy (damage to the blood vessels of the retina) and dry eye syndrome (insufficient tears on the eye’s surface), among other health complications.
The risk of being afflicted with these diseases continues to increase the more you smoke. Because smoking is a controllable risk factor, quitting at any age — even later in life — can significantly reduce your risk of developing these diseases. One of the toughest addictions to break, there are many proven methods to help you kick it for life. Break the habit by delaying, avoiding, and replacing your regular smoking habits. For a more assisted approach, behavioural therapy uses counselling methods to work through dependencies. Alternatively, nicotine replacement therapy uses nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, sprays, and lozenges to replace cigarettes and limit the nicotine withdrawal that takes place when quitting.
Habit 4: Wear eye protection
Eye injuries can cause lasting and permanent vision damage, potentially disabling you for life. Even “minor” eye injuries can cause long-term vision problems and suffering, such as recurrent and painful corneal erosion from a simple scratch from sawdust, cement, or drywall.
Get into the habit of wearing protective eyewear. Doing so can keep rocks, branches, chemicals, and more away from your eyes during work or heavy duty labour of any kind. Sturdy, snug, wraparound glasses with polycarbonate lenses can protect against splatters and branch pokes, but certified safety goggles are the most effective at resisting high-impact debris.
Habit 5: Listen to your body’s warning systems
Temporary irritation and eye watering from exposure to raw onions, hot peppers, and wood-burning fires are your body’s built-in warning system. Over exposure can lead to inflammation in your eyes.
To establish the habit, when standing near open fire pits or fireplaces, stay at least four feet away or open windows for ventilation. When it comes time to make dinner, store a pair of onion goggles in the kitchen that will keep the tears at bay.
Habit 6: Don’t stare at the sun
Staring at ultra-bright objects, like the sun or laser pointers, can permanently damage your sight. Even with sunglasses, you can damage the centre of your vision.
Limit the time you spend staring off into the sunset. Form the habit of keeping a pair of sunglasses close by in your car, purse, or jacket to deal with exposure to direct sunlight. When no shades are available, wearing a lightweight cap with a visor can protect your face and eyes from the sun’s rays.
Habit 7: Avoid rubbing your eyes
Vigorous rubbing can stretch the delicate skin around your eyes and can cause corneal abrasion, elevate eye pressure, and create visual distortions.
Work on changing the habit of rubbing irritated eyes to placing a cool wash cloth over your lids. Instead of rubbing, address the source and avoid triggers that make your eyes irritated.
Habit 8: Follow the 20-20-20 rule
Dry eyes caused by prolonged staring at a screen can be painful and, in some cases, lead to scars or ulcers on the cornea.
Start by bringing screens lower than your sight line. Make a point to do this with any screens you will be staring at for long periods of time. Screens at a lower line of sight allow your eyes from rest, as they do not have to open as wide and therefore retain more moisture. Then, follow the 20-20-20 rule of every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look 20 feet into the distance. Your eyes can rest, refocus, and rehydrate by blinking.
Habit 9: Set a technology curfew
Screen time before bed affects your brain and body—and most noticeably, your eyes. Screens found on computers, cellphones, and televisions emit blue light that is found in the light spectrum present during daytime hours. Acting as artificial sunlight, blue light decreases your production of melatonin, the powerhouse hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Too much screen time can cause symptoms like headaches, eye strain, blurred vision, eye irritation, double vision, excessive tearing, or dry eyes.
It is recommended to “unplug” two hours before bed. This gives your brain a chance to unwind and prepare for sleep. To reach this ideal habit, during Week 1, turn off all devices half an hour before bed and store all digital devices in an area of the house other than the bedrooms. On Week 2, abandon devices at the one hour mark. By Week 3, the two-hour bedtime won’t seem as drastic. Don’t forget to use an alarm clock to wake up if you normally rely on your smart phone.
Habit 10: Visit your eye care professional
Most healthy adults should get a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist every two years. Make a habit of visiting an eye care professional regularly. The chances of detecting early stages of eye diseases and reducing the risk of vision loss is higher. Set a repeating reminder in your personal calendar to book your bi-annual eye exam. Or, check with your optometrist if reminder calls or emails can be set up to make scheduling dates simpler. Aligning your whole family’s appointments for the same time of year can help share the responsibility of eye test recalls.
An FYidoctors near you can advise you on healthy eye habits, too.