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Your family’s eye health deserves some attention. Here’s how to bump it up on your priority list without disrupting your busy schedule.
You don’t need to be a fan of reality TV to have noticed the decluttering movement that’s sweeping the country. From coast to coast, Americans are tidying up, paring down, looking for things that “spark joy,” and generally taking a fresh look at their daily habits and routines.
Why not carry this momentum over to your family’s eye-care routine?
“I think we’re all guilty of taking our eye health for granted,” says Deanna Paul-Blanc, O.D., an optometrist with Nashville Regional Eye Care, located inside an America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. “But if you want to enjoy good vision for life, you really do need to pay attention to how you care for your eyes.”
Challenge accepted! Start with these simple steps:
Has it been a while since your last eye checkup? Now’s the time to book an appointment!
Step #1: Venture Outside Every Day
“Bothered by dry eye or eye fatigue while you’re working? Taking a short walk is one trick that brings patients quick relief,” says Dr. Paul-Blanc. “The fresh air is like hitting a reset button for your eyes.”
Unlike most parts of your body, your corneas (the transparent part of the eye that covers the iris and pupil) lack their own oxygen supply. That means they rely on oxygen directly from the air to stay clear and healthy. The oxygen gets dissolved in your tears, which spread it across the cornea with every blink.
Your kids, meanwhile, get a preventive boost from natural light. Separate studies from researchers in four countries show that kids who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be nearsighted, a refractive error known as myopia.
Rates of myopia in the United States have nearly doubled since the 1970s, and less exposure to natural sunlight is one direct cause. (Genetics is the main predictor of myopia.) A study reported in the journal Ophthalmology found that every hour children spend regularly outside reduces their risk of nearsightedness by 2%.
Some ideas to get everyone up and off the couch:
- Take a family walk after dinner each evening. To keep it interesting, have older kids pick new routes and give younger ones a scavenger hunt list to check off.
- Plant a garden and let each family member pick a flower, herb, or vegetable to tend to.
- When the weather cooperates, take family meals outside.
Step #2: Pollen-Proof Your Contact Lenses
All the pollen and pollutants swirling around in the air can spell stinging eyes for contact-lens wearers. That’s true whether or not you have eye allergies or hay fever, says Dr. Paul-Blanc.
The fix? Once or twice a week, bathe your monthly lenses in a deep-cleaning hydrogen peroxide–based solution.
“It gives lenses a really thorough cleansing and more disinfecting than you’re going to get with most multipurpose solutions,” she says. “Plus, it doesn’t have any preservatives that might bother someone with sensitive eyes.”
You’ll need to pick up a special hydrogen peroxide contact-lens solution kit wherever you buy your everyday solution. It will contain a special case and a neutralizer that turns the peroxide back into water and oxygen so it’s safe to wear your lenses again.
It’s a six-hour process, so you’ll want to do this overnight. And if your child wears contacts, be sure to supervise them until they get a handle on the steps.
Now is also a good time to recommit to the best daily contact-lens hygiene practices: After you remove your lenses, gently rub each one in your solution for a few seconds. Give them a rinse in a fresh squirt of solution before storing them in a clean case.
And about that case, the best way to keep it clean and bacteria-free is to rub some of your solution around the well daily—just like your lenses. Then give it a quick rinse with fresh solution, wipe it down with a clean tissue, and place it facedown to dry.
Dr. Paul-Blanc also recommends getting a new case every three months. If it helps you to remember, put it on the same rotation schedule as your toothbrush.
Double-check expiration dates on your contact solution and eye drops, as well.
Did you know that contact lens prescriptions need to be renewed every year? Find an exam time that fits your schedule!
Step #3: Ask Your Eye Doctor for a Glaucoma Test
If you’re over 40, the International Glaucoma Association recommends you get screened every two years for this condition that can leave you with misty or patchy vision.
Getting screened early and often for glaucoma is especially important if you are nearsighted, have diabetes, have a close relative with glaucoma, or are of African-Caribbean or Asian origin.
Glaucoma doesn’t drop any telltale hints that it’s brewing up trouble. The first signs come after some of your vision is already compromised. And any vision that is lost due to glaucoma can’t be restored.
But there is some good news: If the condition is picked up early during an eye exam, your eye doctor can get you started on prescription eye drops that can slow or even stop the damage to your optic nerve.
Step #4: Add Flaxseed to Your Grocery List
A number of your favorite foods are loaded with eye-healthy nutrients, says Dr. Paul-Blanc. Oranges, tomatoes, tuna, nuts, and salad greens all have protective powers that can lower your risk for developing age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.
But one unsung eye-health hero is flaxseed. This ancient grain is one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a type of unsaturated fat that help your eyes function by adjusting the fluid level of the retina’s outer membrane.
Flaxseed is particularly high in the omega-3 known as alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. One of ALA’s key roles is to fuel the building of new cells and reduce inflammation in the body that’s been tied to eye diseases, heart problems, and diabetes.
You can add a few teaspoons of ground flaxseed to your pancake and cookie batters, stir it into yogurt or oatmeal, or toss it into your salad—without significantly changing the taste.
Another delicious way to reap the benefits? Simply toss it into the blender when you’re making an afternoon smoothie. Try blending together a handful each of torn spinach and kale leaves (about 2 cups total), 1 banana, 1 cup canned coconut milk, 1 cup blueberries, a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds, and a handful of ice.