12 Everyday Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Vision
Eyesight is precious. Whether you’ve been gifted with perfect vision (thanks to your genes) or you rely on glasses, contacts, or eye surgery to improve your vision, much about vision is beyond our control. Aging, for example, is bound to lead to a slow deterioration (aka presbyopia) and is why most of us will likely get our first pair of readers sometime between the age of 41 and 60.
There is, however, a lot that is in our control. And many of us make seemingly harmless mistakes that could damage vision over the long run.
12 Vision Mistakes to Avoid
1. Neglecting Eye Protection
Whether it’s a racketball, basketball, baseball, or paintball, fast-moving sporting projectiles lead to about 40% of the eye injuries seen in emergency rooms every year. But they aren’t the only causes.
Home improvement projects can send wood, metal, and other projectiles into the eyes, contributing to another 40% of eye injuries. Chemicals that splash into the eyes as people clean their homes lead to another 125,000 injuries a year. Yardwork is another common cause as sticks, dirt, rocks, and more are launched from yards directly into delicate eyes. Another 2,000 people per day experience eye injuries from work-related incidents.
Fortunately, there’s a simple way to prevent 90% of the eye injuries seen each year: wear protective safety eyewear. Sadly, few Americans (only 35%) bother with this simple precaution when working around the home. Even fewer use eyewear when playing sports.
To help prevent eye injuries, put on some protective eyewear while operating lawnmowers, trimmers, saws, blowers, and anything else that could send debris flying into your eyes at high speeds. Use caution when cleaning and avoid harsh, toxic chemicals and cleaners. Finally, be a trendsetter and put on protective ANSI-approved glasses before enjoying your favorite sport.
2. Forgetting Your Sunglasses
A sunny day is a wonderful thing—especially when you can just relax and bask in the rays or explore a new (or favorite) hiking trail. Yet overexposure to UV can lead to long-term damage to the cornea, lens, and retina, which can increase the risk for major eye issues, including cataracts and cancer.
Before heading outside any time of the year, make sure you grab a pair of 100% UV-blocking (or UV400 protection) sunglasses to protect your vision. If you have already left the house without your sunglasses, it’s worth picking up an extra pair. You don’t have to spend a lot as there are many affordable options available.
Bonus: sunglasses help reduce or even prevent squinting, which can deepen the groves around the eyes and forehead and make you look older before your time. So, make sure to wear your shades whenever necessary, especially when outdoors for extended times, even when it’s fairly cloudy.
3. Staring at Screens
The average American spends 7+ hours each day staring at a screen. Many of us start the day by scrolling through our phones and then move on to computers only to finish the night off watching TV. No wonder our eyes are exhausted!
Spending so many hours looking at screens is hard on the eyes. Whether you’re on your phone, on the computer, or watching TV, you’re less likely to blink. This reduces the rate of tear production and causes the eyes to dry out and begin to feel itchy and look red and, potentially, blur vision.
Too much time staring at screens is the top cause of dry, irritated eyes. There’s even a name for it: Computer Vision Syndrome. Common symptoms include eyestrain, dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and shoulder and neck pain.
Take time throughout the day to give your eyes a break. One of the easiest ways to do this is to shift your gaze to look out 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds every 20 minutes when you’re in front of a screen.
4. Eating a Nutrient-Poor Diet
What you eat can have a big impact on your eyes and your vision. Some nutrient deficiencies may even cause blindness. A healthy, whole-food diet filled with vitamin-rich vegetables and fruits, quality proteins, and healthy fats benefits the whole body, including the eyes. To help promote eye health, make sure you eat plenty of:
- Leafy green vegetables. Kale and spinach are particularly rich in the eye-health nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin. Other good sources include romaine lettuce, broccoli, and peas.
- Citrus fruits. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that’s known to support eye health. Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and lemons all provide a healthy dose. Other foods rich in this antioxidant include berries, red peppers, and tomatoes.
- Beans. Beans are rich in the trace mineral zinc, which is found in the eyes. Many kinds of beans provide this nutrient, including kidney beans, blackeye peas, and lima beans. Other zinc-rich foods include oysters, red meat, and poultry.
- Cold-water fish and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats may also help prevent age-related eye diseases. Adding salmon, tuna, sardines, and other fatty fish to the diet regularly may help.
- Orange-hued veggies and fruits. Everyone has heard they should eat carrots for their eyes. This is due to the nutrient beta-carotene, which helps with night vision. Carrots aren’t the only option, though. Other beta-carotene-rich foods include sweet potatoes, apricots, and cantaloupe.
5. Rubbing Your Eyes
It’s common to see humans rubbing their eyes when tired or when their eyes are irritated starting in infancy. Yet if you’re rubbing your eyes, there’s likely a reason. Often, there’s something bothersome on the surface of the eye. Unfortunately, when you rub the eye, it can push the irritant deeper into the eye. It can then tear the cornea, leaving the eye open to infection.
Plus, by putting your hands on your eyes, you may also be transferring dirt or bacteria to the delicate tissue. In addition, rubbing the eyes too much can also lead to corneal damage (such as keratoconus, which causes the cornea to thin and bulge outward) or break blood vessels in the eye.
Instead, give the eyes the opportunity to remove the irritant naturally by blinking rapidly and allowing tears to wash away the debris. If that’s not enough, try flushing out the eyes with over-the-counter eye drops. You may also try a cold compress to help relieve tired, uncomfortable eyes.
Don’t, however, become too reliant on redness-reducing drops, as they can cause damage if used excessively. Instead, stick with the artificial tears (and ensuring you’re getting enough sleep) for tired, dry eyes.
And if the eyes are still uncomfortable, reach out to an eye doctor (you may be able to do so by phone or computer) who can advise you on the next steps to better care for your eyes.
6. Staying Up Late
If you skimp on shuteye, you’ll wake up with dry, red, puffy, twitchy, or itchy eyes. Ensuring you get at least seven hours of sleep can help your entire body, including your eyes, repair, so they’re ready for the day.
Practice good sleep hygiene to help you fall asleep easier and faster. That includes shutting down screens at least an hour before bed. Try listening to or playing music, stretching or doing gentle yoga, reading a book or journaling, taking a bath or sauna, meditating, or doing deep breathing exercises. No devices necessary!
7. Leaving in Contacts Too Long
While it may be tempting to wear contacts longer due to cost or convenience, it can lead to permanent damage. This is because contacts rest on the top of the cornea. The corneas don’t have blood vessels to bring in oxygen. Instead, the eyes rely on tears to fill that role.
In addition, a film can build up on contacts that aren’t cleaned regularly, which can also block oxygen flow to the corneas. As a result, the corneas may begin to break down and are also less resistant to germs and infections.
Different contacts can be left in for varying lengths of time. The key is to follow the guidelines provided by your eye doctor and the manufacturer for how often they need to be removed and cleaned or replaced.
To help protect your eyes from infections, never share your contacts with others, avoid sleeping with contacts in, and remember to switch contact cases and only use a sterile saline solution for cleaning to keep your eyes and your contacts clean and infection-free.
Also, take your contacts out when you’re playing in the water, whether it’s the ocean, lake, hot tub, pool, or shower, as water can be loaded with microscopic bugs, parasites, and bacteria that may lead to infection and even vision loss if they get under the contacts.
One of the worst things you can do for your eyesight is continue smoking. Eye diseases linked to smoking include cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and more.
9. Mistaking Common Household Bottles for Eye Drops
Okay, this one may seem way too obvious, but small eyedrop bottles can look a lot like other medications or even superglue or nail glue. It’s rare, but not unheard of, to pick up the wrong bottle and accidentally glue the eyelids shut or put other non-eye-friendly chemicals into the eyes, which may lead to complications that can threaten eyesight.
Make sure your eyedrop bottle is clearly labeled and kept in a separate area, away from other types of medications, nail glue, or other similar bottles.
10. Misusing Makeup
Makeup can cost some serious cash, so it’s tempting to keep it and use it well past expiration. This, however, can be a risky endeavor as eye makeup can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
Some experts recommend replacing eye makeup every six to nine months. Others suggest even sooner. At the very least, makeup should never have the opportunity to start looking clumpy or smelling funky before it’s tossed. And never add water to make up that’s drying out as that can make your makeup an even friendlier environment for bacteria to flourish.
Don’t forget to remove your makeup completely at the end of the day, so it doesn’t flake as you sleep, potentially falling into the eyes and irritating them.
11. Ignoring Existing Health Issues
High blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease are all common and growing concerns for much of the population. And if you’re one of the many with chronic health conditions, you may think it has little to do with your eye health.
Unfortunately, unmanaged health conditions can lead to other complications, including changes in vision. For example, one of the most common causes of blindness is diabetic eye disease, caused when high sugar levels that lead to blood vessels in the eyes leaking.
If you already have a health condition, managing that condition may not only help prevent further complications but may help improve your quality of life. Please, take care of yourself!
12. Avoiding the Eye Doctor
Visiting the doctor isn’t something most people look forward to. But if you’re starting to notice changes in the eyes, visiting the eye doctor sooner rather than later can mean the difference between something that’s easy to correct or long-term vision problems.
Especially if you notice redness, burning, pain, and blurred vision that comes on suddenly or only in one eye, your eye doctor can help direct you toward the right treatment to potentially prevent serious problems and preserve your eyesight.
Don’t forget your regular exams either, as the eyes aren’t just windows into the soul but can also be windows into various health conditions. Some potentially serious problems that may be spotted by an eye doctor include:
- Brain tumors
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Lyme disease
- Medication toxicities
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Thyroid disease
- And more.
It’s easy to take our eyes for granted—until there’s a problem. Then, we quickly realize that eyesight is one of our greatest gifts. Unless we’re sleeping, our eyes are always on duty, so making the effort to prioritize eye care is one of the most positive things we can do.