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Now you see it: Healthy habits to help protect your eyesight

Colin By Colin Groundwater

woman reading book on grass

Taking care of your eyes is an important part of staying healthy, but it can be difficult to know what really makes a difference. Many myths about vision persist. Your mother may have scolded you that sitting too close to the television is bad for your eyes. This old adage has been debunked — proximity to a television isn’t damaging to your eyes. On the other hand, if you’re sitting that close to the TV, it might be worth a trip to the eye doctor to check for nearsightedness.

Even if your vision is fine, it’s a good idea to get your eyes checked regularly. Like an annual physical with your primary care physician, an eye exam can make sure everything is working as it should.

Here are some simple do’s and don’ts to help preserve your vision for the long term.

Do eat your carrots.

And your leafy greens. Both are rich in carotenoids, a nutrient essential to good vision. These veggies don’t exactly help you see better — you won’t suddenly leap to 20/20 vision. But they do contribute to the healthy function of your cornea, the clear membrane that shields your eyes from bacteria and grit. Not only will this help keep your eyes safe now, but studies have shown that a diet rich in carotenoids helps prevent macular degeneration as you age.

Don’t smoke.

It’s a bad habit for all sorts of reasons, but we’re talking about vision here. Smoking has been shown to cause cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and optic nerve damage.

Do wear your sunglasses.

Sunglasses are much more than a fashion statement. Regardless of the season, UV rays can do serious damage to your eyes. The National Eye Institute reports that macular degeneration, the number one cause of blindness in the United States, has been linked to UV rays. And 20 percent of cataracts are said to result from extended sun exposure.

However, not all sunglasses are created equal. Just because your glasses make it easier to see in the sun doesn’t mean they’re protecting you from harmful forms of light. When looking for your next pair, check for ones that block 99% of UVA and UVB rays.

Don’t sleep in your contact lenses.

Seriously, don’t do it. Even though the FDA has approved some brands of contact lenses for night-time wear, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that sleeping in any kind of contact lens increases your chance of getting an eye infection by six to eight times.

Do adjust the lighting on your electronic devices.

Light-emitting diodes, more commonly known as LEDs, are everywhere these days: your TV, your computer, your phone. Electronics emit what is called “blue light,” in the 400-490 nanometer range, which seems to disrupt your sleep cycle. Some researchers believe that increased exposure to blue light can also damage the light receptors in your eyes. Other studies suggest blue light interferes with quality sleep.

Learn more tips to get to sleep faster.

If you work in a field where you have to stare at a screen for a long time, downloadable filters like f.lux and Blue Light Filter are available to reduce blue wavelengths. And many computers and mobile phones now offer a setting — called Night Shift on Mac, Night Mode on Android — that shifts your display to warmer colors after dark.

In that same spirit…

Don’t stare at your computer screen for long periods of time.

While the screen itself isn’t necessarily bad for you, extended exposure to any form of light, blue or otherwise, can cause eyestrain and macular degeneration in the long term. The CDC recommends following the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking 20 feet in front of you. This gives your eyes time to rest and recalibrate.

Check with your insurance provider to find an eye doctor in your network. (Aetna offers one of the largest vision networks available.) And don’t forget that many of your vision supplies are eligible HSA expenses — from sunglasses and safety goggles to contact lens solution.

About the author

Colin Groundwater is a writer from New Jersey living in Brooklyn. He’s training to run a half-marathon.