Our eyes have never been under as much strain as they are today. We spend hours staring at a computer, smartphone and other screens, which overtire the eyes and can cause them to become dry, sore, burn and can even lead to a headache, neckache or backache. Our modern lifestyle has meant that we hardly look into the distance, don’t blink as much as we used to, and meals have become little more than something to fit into our day as and when time allows. Did you know that myopia (short-sightedness) appears to be linked to intensive close-up work? This is a subject examined by scientists and researchers across the globe. Read on to find out what you can do to make sure your eyes stay healthy. Here are our 10 tips for healthy eyes, and for relaxed vision at all ages.
We now know that dry eyes are sometimes caused by not blinking enough. We spend hours staring at screens – generally we’re very focused and tired. We don’t blink enough to ensure the cornea is always supplied with enough tear film and thus protect the eyes from drying out. Blinking is in fact as automatic as breathing. We open and close our eyes roughly 10 to 15 times a minute: this is a reflex and it happens quickly. When we work at a screen or read, we concentrate so hard that we forget to blink enough. We unconsciously suppress it, causing the eyes to dry out in a matter of minutes. The extremely thin tear film on the eye becomes uneven until it eventually tears. Our vision then becomes blurred. Our body attempts to balance out poor vision by staring. Not only does this lead to discomfort in our eyes, it also makes us tired and can even cause headaches. So what can we do? Make sure to blink regularly while working by briefly closing your eyes tight and opening them again. This activates the Meibomian ducts at the edge of our eyelids. The Meibomian ducts produce an oily secretion that mixes with the fluid produced by the tear ducts and ensures that the latter doesn’t evaporate too fast. This keeps our eyes moist.
The 20/20/20 rule is an excellent yardstick for ensuring you look into the distance at regular intervals. The rule is: Every 20 minutes, focus on a point about 20 metres away for 20 seconds. This is so easy to do while you’re at work – and it’s a great way to keep digital eyestrain at bay! Just pretend you’re thinking …
Just like the rest of our body, our eyes need fresh air too. A walk can help relax overtired eyes. During the winter, many offices are heated, which dries out the air. If you sit in front of a screen for extended periods, make sure you remember to air out the room. Greater humidity indoors is also beneficial: why not place bowls of water here and there or moistened cloths on radiators.
People used to say that eating carrots is good for your eyes. People used to believe that the macular pigment, i.e. the pigment that occurs in large quantities in the macula – the point of clearest vision on the retina – is made of beta-carotene. Today, we’ve come a step further. We now know that the pigment is composed of lutein and zeaxanthin. Absorption of these two substances can help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Foods that are particularly high in lutein are green cabbage, spinach, broccoli, rocket and white cabbage – in short, green veggies. We also know that lutein and zeaxanthin are derivatives of beta-carotene, which means eating carrots is also good for the eyes. As a rule, our vision and our bodies both benefit from a healthy, balanced diet.
Drinking plenty of fluids is a great idea if you’re suffering from dry eyes. Two to three litres of water or unsweetened tea every day ensure that the eyes receive the moisture they need. Getting enough sleep also helps our eyes recharge. Seven to eight hours of sleep per night is sufficient. This is a welcome break for people suffering from eyestrain. Important: Avoid exposure to the blue light emitted by screens before you go to sleep. Blue light tells the body and the eyes to stay awake. How would you feel about having a romantic, candlelit dinner? Light helps regulate your body's internal clock and thus has a proven effect on a person’s sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin, which is considered a sleep hormone, plays a central role in this process. When exposed to blue light, special receptors in the eye tell it to release less melatonin to keep you alert and awake. Reduced levels of blue light in the evening means more melatonin is released, causing you to feel tired and fall asleep.
When using cosmetics and eye drops, try to use products without preservatives. Your optician, doctor or chemist can all help you select the right products for you. Eye drops have to be germ-free so as not to trigger eye infections. That’s why eye drops that contain more than one dose and have already been opened should never be used past their expiry date. Single-use eye drops are often the best way to go. In general, germ-free products only work as long as they’re not used past the expiry date, which is why you’re better off throwing away any expired eye drops.
Targeted and gentle eyelid massages can work wonders when it comes to keeping your eyelid ducts fit. This will ensure they function properly and that enough tear film is produced to keep the eyes moist.
- Warm your eyes so that the tough, thick secretion in the Meibomian ducts turns to liquid. You can do so with a washcloth dipped in hot water or a gel mask warmed up on a medium heat on the stove or in the oven (max. 60 degrees). Next, place it on your eyes for 7–10 minutes and relax. Before you apply the mask, check that it’s not too hot by testing it on your wrist.
- Then it’s time for the eyelid massage: gentle motions will help ease out the secretion from the Meibomian ducts. Close your eyes. Carefully, use your finger to stroke the upper lid from top to bottom and the lower lid from bottom to top, until you reach the point where your eyelids meet. Repeat this several times. Finally, massage your eyelid by moving inwards, towards the nose.
- After the massage, with your eyes still closed, gently clean the eyelids from the outside in using a cotton pad dipped in eye cleaning solution (upper lid from top to bottom, lower lid from bottom to top until you reach the point where your lids meet).
Fresh air is good for the eyes – but whatever you do, make sure you avoid draughts from air-conditioners or fans in places such as air-conditioned rooms and cars. This is an excellent way to ensure you don’t develop dry eyes or an eye infection. It’s better to open the window now and again, or to darken rooms during the summer so that you’re not blinded by the sunlight.
Just like our skin, we need to protect our eyes from harmful UV rays. UV light puts a tremendous strain on our eyes – not only on sunny days, but also when it’s cloudy out. UV radiation is unavoidable. That’s why sunblock and many moisturisers all contain UV protection. What’s not as obvious is that the eyes have to be protected against harmful UV rays. Just like the skin, the eyes can also get sunburn – which can even cause lasting damage to the retina. In a worst-case scenario, this could result in other problems like cataract or, even years later, age-related macular degeneration. It’s even possible to develop cancer of the eyelids and eyes as a result of intense exposure to UV light. That’s why you should ensure that your glasses and sunglasses feature full UV protection.
Enjoy life to the full. That includes having excellent, clear vision. Make sure you get your eyes checked regularly at your optician’s or ophthalmologist’s, and choose glasses that suit your particular needs. There are suitable lenses for everyone, no matter what your needs. For example when driving, or making sure you adopt the right posture when working or playing your favourite sport.