Society is regularly concerned about skin, hair, nails and teeth, but our eyes are often neglected. And yet, what we don’t realize is that our eye health and vision can also be affected by our daily behaviors.
To help you treat your eyes a little more gently, we asked an expert to describe the most common bad habits that could be harming you.
1) Sleep with makeup on
We all know that sleeping with makeup on is not ideal for skin health, but it can also lead to more serious complications like vision loss if done too regularly.
“A woman who didn’t remove her mascara properly for 25 years experienced subconjunctival concretions (spots on the lower eyelid filled with debris),” warns Sharon Copeland, an optician at Feel Good Contacts. This led to her feeling that there was constantly something in both her eyes, in part due to inflammation.
Expired makeup is also something you should avoid. “You should also ensure your mascara is no older than six months, or you could be putting your eyes at risk for (pink eye), irritation or styes,” adds Copeland.
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2) Touching or rubbing eyes
Your eyes are delicate, and even light contact with them can spread germs or cause damage without you realizing it.
“If you have to touch your eyes, make sure you wash your hands first or you could be transferring dirt from your hands to your eyes. If you wear contact lenses, it’s especially important to apply and remove the lenses with clean hands,” he says. Copeland.
She also advises that it’s important not to rub your eyes to avoid retinal scratches and irritation. “If your eyes are itchy, you can try applying eye drops to soothe them, but remember that overuse can be counterproductive.”
Adds Copeland: “Using eye drops too often will wash away your natural tears, which are more effective at lubricating your eyes. Follow the instructions on the eye drops package or use them as directed by your eye doctor.”
Many are also itchy eyes from hay fever this summer, so it may be wise to speak to your pharmacist about treatments like antihistamines.
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3) Lots of screen time
How many hours do you stare at a screen a day? And how many breaks do you take? It seems that screen time is not only good for preventing things like burnout and maintaining good mental health, but also for preserving your eyes.
“Constantly staring at computer screens and digital devices is not good for eye health. A digital detox almost seems impossible when we rely on screens for work, entertainment and even driving,” suggests Copeland.
She recommends taking regular breaks from work by “practicing the 20/20/20 rule,” which is every 20 minutes, looking 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds.
“You can also wear blue light glasses to help relieve some eye strain,” adds Copeland.
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People may associate smoking with lung health problems or bad skin, but many don’t realize that it can affect our eyes, too.
“Smoking can lead to eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, which can increase the risk of vision loss,” Copeland points out.
“Stop smoking to protect your eyes, your doctor can advise you on how to quit if you’re having trouble doing it yourself.”
5) Not getting enough sleep
Getting enough sleep seems to be one of the best things you can do for your overall health, and that includes your eyes.
Without enough hours of closed eyes, Copeland warns that we can experience dry eyes and irritation.
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6) Not having regular vision tests
While taking care of your eyes on a day-to-day basis is important, Copeland also advises that you get exams every two years, or sooner if advised by your optometrist.
“A professional will be able to detect possible eye infections before they start to progress. If you notice a change in your vision, you should schedule a vision test right away,” she says.
When was the last time you checked your eyes?
7) Do not wear sunglasses
Don’t be fooled by clouds and gray skies, you still need to protect your eyes on less clear summer days.
“Even on cloudy days, we still need to wear sunglasses. UV rays still affect our eyes even when the sun isn’t shining,” says Copeland.
Make sure you always carry a pair of UV protective sunglasses.
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8) Not eating a nutrient-dense diet
A diet rich in leafy greens and omega-3 fatty acids helps keep your eyes healthy, in addition to other general health benefits.
“Eating foods that contain lutein will help improve your eye health and lower your risk of getting an eye disease,” explains Copeland, adding more specifically that “foods that contain lutein include kale, spinach, broccoli, squash, carrots, and pistachios” are the best.
“Alternatively, you can try taking a lutein supplement, but getting the vitamin through food is the most effective way,” she says.
9) Stop overusing and reusing contact lenses
It seems that sleeping with your contact lenses on and wearing them longer than recommended is not only uncomfortable, but can be dangerous.
“Wearing contact lenses for a long time will starve your eyes of oxygen, drying them out and causing irritation,” says Copeland. “Daily lenses in particular are designed to only be worn for one day, after which the lens starts to break, and you wouldn’t want that to happen while it’s in your eye!”
10) Not drinking enough water
Many different parts of our health are closely linked, and if we neglect one part, we are likely to see an effect on other parts.
“Not only does a lack of water throughout the day negatively affect your eye health, it can also make you feel tired, dizzy and confused,” explains Copeland. “Dehydration can make your eyes dry, if you also wear contact lenses, your eyes will be even drier.”
To help combat this, she recommends drinking at least eight glasses of water a day.
11) Do not wear safety glasses
Last but not least, Copeland points out that we must be more vigilant in protecting ourselves when doing activities that can cause illness.
“Do-it-yourself can be a satisfying and cost-effective way to turn things around, but make sure you’re always wearing protective eye gear,” she says. “You should also wear goggles when drilling, painting, swimming, oil frying, using chemicals, cutting grass.”
Thinking about changing a habit to help improve your eye health?
Watch: See Which of Your Bad Habits Are Really Harming Your Eye Health