To keep our eyes working at their best, we need to give them a little attention — and avoid hazards and careless acts that can do our eyes harm. First, let’s learn how nutrition can help fortify your eyes.
Vitamin A — For generations, mothers have told their children to eat their carrots to see better at night. Well, maybe so, maybe not. Actually, this bit of folk wisdom is a slightly distorted version of a known scientific fact. Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A, and one of the early symptoms of a deficiency of this nutrient is night blindness. That’s not the same, however, as saying that eating carrots will make normal night vision even better.
But there’s no refuting that vitamin A is essential to healthy eyes and normal eyesight. Chronic, severe vitamin A deficiency causes a condition called xerophthalmia, or drying of the eye. It affects the cornea, the transparent covering that allows light to enter the eye. In xerophthalmia, the normally clear and glistening cornea becomes extremely dry. If left untreated, this condition can lead to blindness. Xerophthalmia afflicts some 3 million children each year in developing countries. Up to 250,000 of them end up permanently blind — a tragedy that could be prevented by an adequate diet or supplementation with vitamin A.
Antioxidants — Antioxidants are much in the news these days because of evidence that they may prevent some of the biological deterioration that comes with aging. Researchers believe antioxidants benefit the body by preventing cell damage caused by oxidation. (Oxidation is a natural process that occurs as part of normal cell functioning. The process is similar to the browning effect that happens to cut fruit left exposed to air too long.)
Besides reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, antioxidants — along with zinc — may help protect against macular degeneration, a serious eye disease associated with aging. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) by the National Institutes of Health found that high levels of antioxidant vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, and E significantly reduced the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in those already at high risk for advanced disease. However, the study did not produce evidence that antioxidants are protective against the development of cataracts.
Minerals — In addition to antioxidants, certain minerals are also thought to be connected to eye health. Zinc, for example, has been shown to help reduce the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking high levels of zinc, along with high levels of antioxidant vitamins, reduced the risk of developing advanced AMD by about 25 percent.
Avoiding Dangers and Accidents
Eye injuries can happen most anywhere. Experts say that 90 percent of eye injuries could be prevented. What it takes is a little extra vigilance in situations that make your eyes vulnerable. Here are a few of them:
At play — Whether it’s an errant fishing line, a bouncing ball, a recoiling bungee cord, or flying campfire sparks, recreational settings present serious eye-injury risks. The best way to play it safe is to be alert. Pay keen attention to what you’re doing and what’s going on around you.
Sports-related eye injuries number at least 200,000 a year, with baseball, basketball, tennis, squash, and hockey players being the most susceptible. When you’re on the field, court, or rink, wear protective glasses that protect you from the front and all sides. Glasses made of polycarbonate or another sturdy plastic are best.
In the home workshop — Flying wood chips, ricocheting nails, splashing paint thinner — these are but a few of the dangers posed by do-it-yourself jobs at home. Wearing protective eyewear may seem like a hassle, but it also might save your sight. Here is some of the gear to choose from:
Safety glasses. These cost only a few dollars and offer protection when you’re hammering or using hand tools or slow-moving electric tools. Look for a logo that indicates the glasses have passed safety tests. Those made from polycarbonate will be the most impact resistant. Be sure the glasses have side shields, too, to deflect objects coming at you from the sides. If you need to wear prescription eyeglasses, you can also get prescription safety glasses.
Safety goggles. These protect you from debris flying at you from all directions. Thus, goggles give you the most all-around protection when you’re working with tools, chemicals, and so on.
Full-face shields. These are a good idea when you’re using a lathe or router, for instance. If you’re welding, be sure the shield has special shading to protect your eyes from the bright light. Because a shield doesn’t protect against heavy impact or from objects that might fly up or around the shield, you should always use safety glasses or goggles under the shield.
Yardwork — Many people have discovered the hard way that even a simple chore such as mowing the lawn can lead to eye injury. Thousands of eye wounds result from stones or twigs being spit out by lawn mowers. So it’s a good idea to wear goggles to ward off flying debris. The same holds when you’re trimming hedges; branches can snap back and hit you in the eye. And when you’re using a chain saw, both a face shield and safety goggles are essential.
Other home or fix-it chores — Lots of other home-related jobs merit wearing eye protection, too. For instance, goggles can protect your eyes from falling grit when you’re working under your car, from splashing chemicals when you’re cleaning, or from dripping paint when you’re painting a ceiling.
Information from HowStuffWorks.com