March is Save Your Vision Month in America, with many promotions being held to help people care for their eyes and look after their sight. There is, however, no reason that British people cannot also take on board the suggestions and advice for eye care that come out of the initiative.
One aspect of eye care being brought to the fore by the American Optometric Association (AOA) is how to guard one"s vision when using a computer for a long period of time. According to the organisation, computer users complain more of eye problems than anything else. Dry eyes, strain or blurred vision are all potential ailments associated with lengthy periods of time at a computer.
The AOA gives a list of ways to help protect one"s eyes against what it calls "computer vision syndrome". Keeping the screen resolution high is one and having the contrast between letters and their background comfortable to read is another. Monitors should not be so bright as to glare but neither should they be so dim the user has to strain to use it.
Sit back from the computer and check your prescription if you find yourself having to hold your head strangely to see the images on the screen properly. It may also be that your everyday glasses are not suitable for prolonged computer use and you should consider ones designed to be worn for this sort of activity. In addition, rest your eyes enough, blink hard and use artificial tear drops if required.
Healthy eating is another aspect of eye care that is being brought to people"s attention in the US. The AOA is urging people to consume plenty of fruit and vegetables. Eyes need vitamin C, found in such foods as grapefruits, tomatoes, strawberries, papaya and oranges, while vitamin E can be found in certain vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Look for colourful fruits and vegetables, for example spinach, tangerines and broccoli, for your zeaxanthin and lutein. And if your mother always told you carrots were good for your eyes, she was not wrong. The AOA and dietician Elizabeth Somer say that carrots contain the provitamin A beta-carotene, which helps develop night vision. However, lutein- and zeaxanthin-rich dark green leafy vegetables are better.
The AOA points out that several studies have shown that eating properly can help prevent eye conditions associated with ageing, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It identifies six key nutrients you must be sure to get to maximise your defences against such conditions. These are zinc, vitamins C and E, zeaxanthin, lutein and essential fatty acids.
There are, of course, other things to protect your eyes against. Eye Care America, a project of the Foundation of the American Academy of Opthalmology, offers advice on guarding against such problems as injury and sun damage. It says that research has shown cataracts and AMD can be caused by sun exposure and urges people to wear sunglasses that completely block UV light. Watch out - the cost of the product or the darkness of the lenses is not an indication of how thorough the protection is.
Eyes should also be protected when playing sports or carrying out activities such as lawn mowing or dealing with chemicals. Eye Care America says that 90 per cent of the million-plus eye injuries that occur annually in the US could have been avoided if proper protective eyewear had been worn.
What goes for American eyes goes equally for British, European, Australian and African ones. Take the advice; eat properly, use computers with care and make sure you have protective lenses, glasses or goggles when you need them. You"ll never get another pair of eyes, so take care.
by Alexa Kaczka