Our eyesight is often something we take for granted – until there’s something wrong with it.
Dry eyes, headaches and blurred vision are just some of the symptoms of an eye problem, according to experts.
Here, Dr Jørn Slot Jørgensen, of the Laser Eye Clinic London, and Evelyn Mensah, a consultant ophthalmologist and eye surgeon at Central Middlesex Hospital, share their tips on the ways you could be unwittingly putting yourself at risk.
Dry eyes, headaches and blurred vision are just some of the symptoms of an eye problem, according to experts
Skipping eye tests
People should undergo an eye test test every two years, or more often if their optometrist recommends it.
Dr Jørgensen said: ‘Failing to schedule regular eye tests can result in undiagnosed eye conditions.
‘Conditions like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration often develop without noticeable symptoms in their early stages.
‘Early detection through eye tests is crucial for effective treatment and vision preservation.’
Routine eye tests can also pick up early signs of underlying systemic health conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Prolonged screen time
The widespread use of digital devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones has led to extended periods of screen time for both work and leisure.
‘This can result in digital eye strain, characterised by symptoms like dry eyes, headaches and blurred vision,’ Dr Jørgensen says.
Ms Mensah said recommended the 20-20-2- rule.
‘This means every 20 minutes, looking at something 20ft away for 20 seconds. In addition, remember to blink when using a screen to prevent eyes from getting dry,’ she said.
Not wearing UV protective sunglasses
Failing to wear sunglasses with adequate UV protection can lead to harmful UV radiation exposure.
This may contribute to conditions such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), Dr Jørgensen warned.
He said: ‘Protecting your eyes from UV rays, particularly in sunny conditions, is essential for preserving long-term eye health.’
Ms Mensah says UV exposure can also increase the development of growths on the surface of the eyes called pterygia.
She warned: ‘Not all sunglasses filter UV light, so ensure they carry the CE, UV 400 or British Standard Mark. And never look directly at the sun because this can cause a solar burn in the macula that can result in permanent visual loss.’
Poor diet and lack of nutrients
Eating a healthy, balanced diet could help reduce your risk of sight-threatening eye disease such as AMD, which impacts central vision.
Ms Mensah explains that the macula – part of the retina which processes what you see directly in front of you – contains natural pigments such as lutein and zeaxanthin that are found in dark-green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale.
‘Vitamins A, C and E are also helpful, so eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day,’ she advises.
‘And if you have a family history of AMD, ask your GP about taking nutritional supplements.’
Dr Jørgensen added: ‘A poor diet lacking essential nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E, as well as minerals like zinc, can harm eye health, as these nutrients are vital for vision and overall eye function.
‘To maintain healthy eyes, it’s crucial to consume a balanced diet rich in leafy greens, colourful fruits and vegetables, and omega-3 sources.’
If you’re a smoker, stopping is not only beneficial to your general health but also for your eyes.
Ms Mensah said: ‘Smoking cessation is a modifiable factor that can reduce the risk of developing certain eye conditions such as AMD and cataracts.’
She recommended asking your GP for support if you are keen to quit, who will have lots of helpful resources available.
Not wearing prescribed glasses
There’s a widespread misconception that wearing prescribed glasses worsens your eyesight.
‘This notion is inaccurate,’ she stresses.
‘The primary reason for wearing prescribed glasses is simply because you require them. If you neglect to wear them, you run the risk of experiencing headaches.’
‘Working or reading in areas with insufficient lighting can make your eyes work harder, leading to eye strain, discomfort, and poorer vision,’ says Dr Jørgensen.
He points out that good lighting, often called ‘task lighting’, is vital for creating comfortable conditions for reading and working.