By Elizabeth Trach
Did you know that May is Healthy Vision Month? This year, the National Eye Institute wants you to take small steps to protect your vision today, so you can enjoy good eyesight and all its benefits well into the future.
Your eyesight is incredibly important, especially when it comes to safe driving. This should be a no-brainer; after all, you have to pass a vision test when you take your driver’s test. Sharp vision, whether you come by it naturally or with the help of eyeglasses, allows you to spot hazards on the road and react appropriately when you’re behind the wheel.
The Dangers of Driving While Visually Impaired
Just as you wouldn’t get behind the wheel drunk or otherwise impaired by medication, you also shouldn’t drive if your vision is compromised. Unfortunately, an estimated 23% of drivers around the world operate their vehicles with uncorrected vision problems, and poor vision causes as many as 60 percent of car accidents. That’s a lot of accidents that could have been prevented!
Tips to Keep Your Eyes Healthy and Happy
You can do your part to promote good eye health and stay safe behind the wheel. Here’s how:
Get an Annual Eye Exam
Renewing your driver’s license online may be convenient, but it also means skipping the eye test at the DMV. So when’s the last time you had your eyes checked out by a doctor? If you already see an ophthalmologist or optometrist, make sure you visit once every year or two for regular checkups. This will ensure that your eyeglass prescriptions are kept up to date.
If you don’t wear glasses, ask your primary care doctor to do a quick vision screening during your annual physical. If that’s not possible, you can try an online eye test to make sure you don’t have any obvious visual impairment.
Eat Right and Exercise
Diet and exercise are crucial for good eye health. How’s your diet been lately? The National Eye Institute recommends eating carrots and plenty of dark, leafy greens to get the nutrients you need to maintain healthy eyesight. Omega-3 fatty acids can also protect your eyes.
Many eye diseases are caused by "lifestyle diseases" like diabetes and high blood pressure. Diabetes can cause blurry vision and cataracts that cloud vision, while hypertension can damage the blood vessels in your retinas and ruin your vision. The best way to prevent these issues is to eat a lean, healthy diet and get plenty of aerobic exercise.
Know Your Medications
If you’ve ever sat through a commercial for a new drug, you know that they can come with a long list of side effects. While you’re unlikely to experience every side effect in the book, some medications can affect your vision. Some examples include diuretics, birth control, steroids, antibiotics, antihistamines, and antidepressants.
This May, do a spring cleaning of your medicine cabinet and take stock of any prescriptions you’re taking. Google the side effects or check with your doctor to see if you should be on the alert for vision changes while taking these medications. If so, make an appointment with an eye doctor for a checkup to make sure your eyes are in good shape.
Rest Your Eyes Regularly
Most people force their eyes to work hard for hours on end. Staring at a computer screen can be particularly tiring to your eyes, so it’s important to take frequent breaks that allow you to look away from the computer screen for a time. Aim for four to six breaks from "eye labor" during each work day. The breaks only need to be five minutes long to do the trick.
You can also reduce eye fatigue by making sure your work area is well lit. This allows you to avoid straining to read in dim areas. Using a larger computer monitor and making sure it’s no closer than arm’s length will also help.
Exercise Your Eyes, Too
Just like the rest of your body, your eyes need appropriate exercise to stay strong and healthy. When you keep them focused on a relatively close object like a computer screen, the muscles that help adjust your natural lenses don’t get to move. The next time you want to look at something far away, it may take a while to adjust.
Keeping your distance vision in good shape is crucial for driving, since you need to see upcoming signs, pedestrians, and unexpected hazards. Keep your distance vision toned by following the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes you spend reading or looking at a screen, take a 20-second break to look at objects 20 feet away from you. This will give your eyes the exercise they need to stay limber and focused.
Protect Your Eyes
Damaging UV rays from the sun don’t just burn our skin. They can also burn the delicate tissue around your eyes and cause vision problems like macular degeneration, cataracts, and corneal sunburn, a painful condition that can cause temporary blindness. Wearing sunglasses while you’re outside is crucial; choose polarized lenses to cut down on glare while you’re driving for a bigger safety boost.
Many hobbies also require additional protection. If you use tools, be sure to wear safety goggles to avoid injury. Likewise, athletes who play contact sports should wear appropriate protection, whether it’s a visored helmet, eye shield, or something else.
Protect Your Eyes Today for Safe Driving Tomorrow
The bottom line? Your vision is precious, and you want to enjoy it for as long as you live. Committing to good eye health also helps make you a safer driver, so celebrate Healthy Vision Month by following these tips to make sure your eyes can do their job for the long haul.