By: Kenna McHugh
How to Keep the Eyes Healthy
The eyes are the window to the soul and to health. People often consider their overall health and well-being but neglect their eyes until there’s a change in vision or some other predicament. There’s a reason for all the reminders to take vitamins for eye health. Vision problems can start at a young age and it’s not uncommon for people to cope with eye problems later in life. Making the right choices at a young age may help lower the risk of developing eye problems later on. Making sure the body gets the nutrients it needs is crucial in maintaining overall health, including vision.
Common Signs of Vision Problems
Although eyesight does change over time with age, sudden changes in vision are nothing to ignore. It may just be time to order a new pair of glasses, a sign to increase daily vitamins for eye health or it may be a sign of other health issues. Common signs of vision problems include (x):
- Hazy or blurred vision
- Squinting or double vision
- Redness, watering, swelling, itching
- Cloudy vision
- Spots in vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Excessive tearing
Eye pain or discomfort is one important sign not to ignore. It may originate within the eye itself or the surrounding structures that control the eyes, such as the eyelids, cornea, conjunctival membranes and nerves. Corneal abrasions, corneal infections, blepharitis, optic neuritis and sinusitis can cause pain and discomfort. Injury or trauma to the eye and the area around it may also cause pain (x).
Another important sign of deteriorating eye health is vision loss. Vision loss can develop slowly over time or unexpectedly. It may start with one eye or both eyes at the same time. Loss of vision is not the same as complete blindness. The causes for vision loss include issues affecting the eyes to issues affecting the brain’s visual nervous system. Some conditions happen at a young age, but vision generally worsens over time (x).
How Does Vision Change with Age?
The eyes change with age just like the rest of the body. However, it’s important to understand the difference between natural and unnatural changes in vision. Visiting an eye doctor regularly can help identify any unnatural changes. At a certain point in life, patients face a greater risk for age-related eye diseases. It is a good idea to note any noticeable changes in vision. As overall health changes it’s important to have the eyes checked regularly as well (x). Also, make sure to utilize the proper minerals and vitamins for eye health.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Age-related macular degeneration is a condition where the patient loses their central vision when the macula—a part of the retina—gets damaged. It may not affect peripheral vision, but the patient cannot see details close up or far away. Risk factors for AMD include diets high in saturated fat, overweight, smoking and hypertension (x).
Cataracts are so widespread in older patients that some professionals in the medical field consider it a standard stage in the aging process. When a patient has cataracts, tiny clusters of protein molecules develop on the eye’s lens which blocks light and dims vision. Cataracts cloud the eye lens and cause headaches because the eyes must work harder (x).
Glaucoma causes permanent damage to the optic nerve that gets more severe over time. Pressure accumulates in the eye from fluid buildup because the eye fails to drain it properly. As it worsens, glaucoma can cause lasting vision loss or complete blindness in a short amount of time. During the early stages, patients may not have symptoms or pain. Regular eye exams can diagnose glaucoma for treatment before any long-term vision impairment (x).
As the body ages, the risk for diabetes may increase along with the risk for diabetic retinopathy. The condition stems from diabetes because high blood sugar damages the tiny blood vessels in the retina, which responds to light. If the issue goes untreated, swelling will occur, causing bleeding, blurred vision and headaches. It is also the leading cause of blindness (x).
Retinal detachment is when the retina detaches from its normal position in the eye. It is a severe condition that needs treatment right away. Most incidents are age-related conditions and typically result from poorly managing diabetes. Signs include floating specks in the vision, flashes of light in the eyes, blurry vision, impaired peripheral vision and shadow-like curtains over the visual field (x).
Other Common Eye Conditions
In conjunctivitis (or “pink eye”), the whites of the eyes turn red or pink. Conjunctivitis develops from inflammation in the shell of tissue covering the whites of the eyes, called the conjunctiva. Infections, bacteria or allergies may cause the condition. It is contagious and spreads through the sticky discharge that comes from the infected eye. The patient experiences irritation, pain, discharge, redness, itching, watering, light sensitivity and blurry vision (x).
A stye is a bump that develops on the outside or inside of the eye that looks like a pimple. It is caused by a bacterial infection in the glands in the eye. Along with the bump itself, the patient experiences pain, swelling, sensitivity to light, tearing and crusting on the eyelid. The blockage of a gland or follicle, stress and hormonal changes in the body can produce the conditions for the stye to develop (x).
Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome is when the eye does not have enough moisture on its surface. The persistent lack of moisture causes mild to severe inflammation and irritation, which can cause scarring on the surface of the eye. The syndrome is age-related and flares up during postmenopause or with arthritis. Heavy use of computers and other electronic devices can cause dry eye syndrome (x).
Color blindness is the inability to distinguish colors. Most often, patients are unable to differentiate between shades of red, green, yellow or blue. The patient may also have difficulty distinguishing brightness or vividness. However, a complete inability to see any color is rare. Most of the time, patients who are color blind are not aware of it until an optometrist discovers it. Color blindness is usually a genetic problem. Optic nerve damage, cataracts, aging and physical or chemical damage to the eyes or brain can also cause color blindness (x).
Strabismus is a hereditary condition caused by impaired development in the brain’s neurological center. The eyes fail to work together and the eyes do not focus on objects at the same time, causing them to cross. Some medical professionals claim that the muscles or nerves fail to control the eyes. Still, other studies note that strabismus is a muscle-related malfunction in the brain’s control system (x).
How to Protect the Eyes & Vision
Lifestyle behaviors can affect vision and practicing healthy lifestyle practices can have a positive influence on the eyes and overall health. One important practice is to eat a healthy and nutrient-filled diet. Eating foods with natural vitamins for eye health may help support optimal vision.
Exposing the eyes to a considerable and extensive amount of ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun heightens the risk for damage. Wearing sunglasses that block UVA and UVB light may help protect the eyes, specifically sunglasses with 99 to 100 percent protection. Make sure to wear them even on cloudy days. In addition, wear protective goggles or safety glasses using any airborne or hazardous materials and in individual sports (x).
Limit Screen Time
Looking at computers, smartphones and tablet screens for long periods of time can damage the eyes and take a toll on vision. According to research, increased daily screen time correlates with a higher number of cases of eye strain, dry eye syndrome, headaches and even insomnia. Medical professionals suggest that patients give their eyes a break from their screens every 20 minutes and look at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Research suggests that following this 20-20-20 rule can help the eyes relax (x).
Vitamins for Eye Health
The body needs minerals to function effectively and even vision relies on certain vitamins for eye health. Although these important nutrients are in the body naturally, patients may want to include outside sources as well, such as food or supplements. However, keep in mind that supplements do not cure any health condition or disease on their own. Instead, they are designed to provide the body with what it needs for optimum health and to help support the processes the body performs naturally. All patients need to consult with a doctor before trying any supplement (x).
Beta-Carotene & Vitamin A
These two substances work together to maintain healthy eyes in general. Beta-carotene in the body converts into vitamin A, which helps keep the cornea clear. The cornea is what covers the eye. This vitamin is part of the protein rhodopsin, which allows sight in low light (x). So together, these are important vitamins for eye health and vision. The recommended dosage for beta-carotene powder is 1,300 mg per day. The supplement dose for vitamin A palmitate powder is 30 mg daily.
Zinc is another trace mineral that may be a helpful vitamin for eye health because it strengthens the immune system to fight disease. The body does not produce the mineral on its own, so patients need to get zinc from their diet or from supplements. As a dietary supplement, take between 225 and 450 mg of zinc gluconate powder once per day.
Lutein is a carotenoid present in carrots and dark leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. It is a substance the macula and retina need to function properly and filter light. The recommended daily dosage for lutein powder supplements is 400 mg per day (x).
Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
Thiamine converts food into energy and generates regular cell function, including in the eyes. It is naturally present in dried milk, beef, nuts, liver, eggs, oats, seeds, oranges, legumes, pork, yeast and peas. The recommended daily dose for thiamine (vitamin B1) powder is 100 mg.
Vitamin C helps support vision because it promotes collagen, a protein that builds the structure of the eyes. It’s a natural derivative of citrus fruits. As a dietary supplement, take 1,000 mg ascorbic acid / vitamin C powder up to three times daily.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect vision by guarding the eyes against free radicals. Sunflower seeds, avocados, fish, almonds are all foods rich in vitamin E. As a daily supplement, take 350 mg of vitamin E powder with food and water per day.
Vitamin D is another vitamin linked to immune and overall health support , including in the eyes. Fatty-fish, beef, egg yolk and milk are some sources of vitamin D. As a dietary supplement, take 50 mg of vitamin D3 per day with a meal.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids help build cell membranes in the retina. They also have anti-inflammatory properties that help protect the body from damage. Fatty-fish, fatty-plant based food, firm tofu and Brussels sprouts are dietary sources of the supplement. The recommended serving size is three omega 3-6-9 softgels once or twice daily.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is important for metabolizing energy so that cells can grow and function properly. Research states that it also plays an important role as a natural vitamin for eye health. Meat, eggs, or legumes are good sources of riboflavin. As a dietary supplement, take 50 mg of riboflavin (vitamin B2) powder up to two times a day.
The Bottom Line
Vision changes are a natural part of the aging process. As the body changes with age, so do the eyes. There are several common symptoms that may signal vision problems or deteriorating eye health, such as blurred vision, irritation, watery eyes or redness. Regular changes in the optical system with age can lead to functional challenges. Age-related eye diseases include cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Other common eye conditions include color blindness, conjunctivitis and strabismus.
Take precautions to protect your eyes—wear protective eye wear, limit screen time and make sure to get enough nutrients either through diet or supplements. However, supplements do not cure vision changes or any other disease or condition. They aim to support natural body processes. Consult a doctor before taking any dietary supplements. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.