Promoting the importance of healthy vision and yearly eye exams is a daily commitment for optometrists, but it is a message that is especially strong in May. This month we observe Healthy Vision Month, organized by the National Eye Institute (NEI). 

Healthy vision is a very important part of life and taking good care of your eyes should be a priority just like eating healthy and physical activity. To keep your eyes healthy, you should have a comprehensive eye exam yearly where an eye care professional will check for common vision problems and eye diseases. It is the best way to find out if you need glasses, contacts, or are in the early stages of any eye-related diseases.

Vision Health for All Ages

Though people tend to have more vision problems as they age, children need eye exams to ensure healthy vision, too. Only about 40 percent of preschool aged children have had their vision tested. 

Amblyopia (when vision in one eye does not develop properly during childhood. It is sometimes called “lazy eye”) is the most common cause of vision loss in children, affecting 3 of every 100 children.

Other eye conditions, such as refractive errors, which happen when the shape of the eye prevents light from focusing directly on the retina, are common problems easily corrected with glasses, contact lenses, or laser surgery. An estimated 11 million Americans aged 12 years and older could have better vision if they used corrective lenses or had eye surgery. 

Some eye conditions can cause vision loss and even blindness. These include:

  • Cataracts – a clouding of the lens.
  • Diabetic retinopathy – associated with diabetes which causes damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye.
  • Glaucoma – damage to the optic nerve, often with increased eye pressures.
  • Age-related Macular Degeneration – which gradually affects central vision

Eye Exams: How Often?

  • Children’s eyes should be checked regularly by an eye doctor or pediatrician. 
  • The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends vision screenings for all children aged 3 to 5 years to find conditions such as amblyopia or strabismus, which can be treated effectively if caught early.
  • People with diabetes should have a dilated eye exam every year.
  • People that are at a higher risk for glaucoma, including:
    • African Americans 40 years and older
    • All adults older than 60, especially Mexican Americans
    • People with a family history of glaucoma

Nine ways you can help protect your vision

  1. Get annual comprehensive eye exams.
  2. Know your family’s eye health history. It’s important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with an eye disease or condition, since many eye diseases are hereditary.
  3. Stay healthy: In particular, eat plenty of dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, and fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids
  4. Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home, such as painting, yard work, and home repairs.
  5. Wear sunglasses that block 99 percent-100 percent of ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation.
  6. Wash your hands before taking out your contacts and cleanse your contact lenses properly to avoid infection.

Eyes and Overall Health

Taking care of your eyes also may benefit your overall health. People with vision problems are more likely than those with good vision to have diabetes, poor hearing, heart problems, high blood pressure, lower back pain and strokes, as well as have increased risk for falls, injury and depression. Of people ages 65 and older, more than 50 percent of those who are blind and 40 percent of those with impaired vision say their overall health is fair or poor. Only about 20 percent of older Americans without vision problems reported fair to poor health.

In addition to your comprehensive dilated eye exams, visit an eye care professional if you have:

  • Decreased vision
  • Eye pain
  • Redness of the eye
  • Double vision
  • Diabetes
  • Floaters (tiny specks that appear to float before your eyes)
  • Circles (halos) around light sources or flashes 
  • Family history of eye diseases 

For this Healthy Vision Month, take care of your eyes to make them last a lifetime!