Opticians say they are seeing more eye problems than five years ago, with factors such as obesity, smoking and poor hygeine affecting people’s vision
Do you have trouble with your eyes? Nine out of 10 opticians say they are seeing more eye problems than they did five years ago, according to recent research.
And the figures, compiled for Optegra (a group of eye specialist hospitals ) look set to carry on rising.
leading eyesight charity the RNIB predicts that the number of people living with sight loss in the UK will double – to four million – by 2050.
But the good news is that half of all cases of sight loss can be prevented.
Here we examine some of the risks and how to keep those peepers in perfect nick...
Studies show that people who are overweight have a low pigment density in the macula, the part of the eye needed for sharp central vision.
According to the Eyecare Trust ( eyecaretrust.org.uk ), this means the eye has less natural protection and is at increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of irreversible blindness in old age.
The condition affects more than 600,000 people over 50 in the UK.
Being overweight also raises the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes – which can damage blood vessels at the back of the eye if not well managed.
Protect your peepers : Keep your waist to no bigger than 37in if you’re a man and 31.5in if you’re a woman.
Tobacco is bad news for health in general, and eyesight is no exception. The chemicals in tobacco harm the tiny blood vessels inside your eyes, causing blockages and internal bleeding.
This damages the retina, the “seeing” part of the eye, which in turn increases risk of AMD. according to the British Medical Journal, one in five cases of AMD is purely down to smoking. It can also significantly raise the risk of cataracts – when the lens clouds over – as well as diabetes.
Protect your peepers : It’s never too late to stop smoking. For help, speak to your GP or visit nhs.uk/smokefree.
Too much time spent on the sofa
Regular exercise is as good for your eyes as it is for your heart.
Aerobic exercise – the sort that makes you breathe faster and sweat – helps to increase the supply of oxygen to the optic nerve, and lowers pressure in the eye.
A build-up of pressure in the eye, which happens with the condition glaucoma, can result in permanent damage to the optic nerve, affecting sight.
Glaucoma affects two in 100 people over the age of 40 in the UK, but many sufferers are unaware they have it.
Protect your peepers : A brisk 20-minute walk at least four times a week could be enough to lower eye pressure, according to the International Glaucoma Association.
Poor hygiene can lead to serious eye infections, with contact lens wearers particularly at risk.
In 2014, Moorfields Eye Hospital in London launched its Healthy Habits campaign to educate people about the risks after consultants saw an increase in sight-threatening infections, such as acanthamoeba keratitis, which is caused by a parasite found in soil, fresh water and seawater.
If trapped behind a contact lens, it eats into the cornea, the transparent top layer of the eye, and burrows through the eyeball, destroying sight permanently if untreated.
Protect your peepers : Never wash contact lenses or lens cases in tap water, and never shower or swim with lenses in. Always wash your hands before touching lenses, and use a special cleaning solution. Seek medical advice immediately you notice symptoms as some infections can cause sight loss within days.
According to the World Health Organisation, damage caused by the sun’s UV rays is the biggest preventable risk factor for cataracts, which affect one in three people over 65. This gradual exposure over a lifetime is also one of the main risk factors for AMD.
Protect your peepers : The Eyecare Trust advises looking for sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection, and a CE mark to show they have passed European safety standards. By law, all sunglasses sold in the EU should carry a CE mark but beware of fakes.
Fakes are even more damaging than wearing no glasses at all because the dark lens encourages your pupil to open, letting in more UV rays.
A bad diet
Too much saturated fat, found in full-fat dairy products and meat, can lead to a build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels in the macula, raising the risk of AMD.
Meanwhile, government figures show that three-quarters of us aren’t getting the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, which contain a combination of vital nutrients for eye health.
Protect your peepers : Check food labels – a food is high in saturated fat if it contains more than 5g saturates per 100g. Eat at least one portion per week of oily fish, such as sardines and mackerel, which contain omega-3 fats that support the structure of cell membranes in the eye.
Research has shown that this can reduce your risk of AMD by up to 40%. And eat plenty of yellow, orange and green fruit and veg, which contain lutein, a vital nutrient for good sight.
Try a supplement, such as OptiVision, which contains a combination of eye-friendly nutrients (£14.95 for a month’s supply; healthspan.co.uk ).
Skipping eye tests
Twenty million people in the UK don’t go for regular eye tests, according to the Eyecare Trust. Yet opticians can spot sight-threatening conditions long before you do.
Glaucoma isn’t called the “silent thief of sight” for nothing. It’s possible to lose up to 40% of vision permanently before noticing symptoms, according to the International Glaucoma Association ( glaucoma-association.com ). A routine eye test can also reveal other health problems, such as diabetes.
Protect your peepers : Go for an eye test at least every two years. More than 30 million people in the UK are entitled to free NHS tests, while millions more can get tests paid for by their employers.