Tips to Keep Your Eyes Healthy

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Why did nature provide us with two eyes and two ears, but only one mouth? We should view, examine, and listen to our environment twice as much as we talk or eat,  for our own good. Also, if one eye or ear becomes damaged, we have another to use and protect us.   

Protecting your eyes starts with the food on your plate. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, xeaxanthin, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and E may help prevent or slow age-related vision problems such as age-related macular degeneration (progressive deterioration of part of the retina, otherwise known as AMD) and cataracts (clouding of your eye lens). To obtain these and other important nutrients, eat a variety of whole foods rather than supplements. Eating a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet also helps you maintain a healthy weight which makes you less likely to get obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes (1, 5). Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults.

Eat nutritious foods regularly for good vision: 

  • Green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, collards, dandelion greens, mustard greens, and swiss chard are packed with lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. Antioxidants protect against eye damage from sunlight, cigarette smoke, and air pollution. Lutein and zeaxanthin are believed to enter the lens and retina of the eye and absorb damaging visible light. Most people are deficient in these two nutrients. Eating a cooked 10-ounce block of frozen spinach over the course of a week will help lower your risk of age-related eye disease. Kale has double these nutrients. Broccoli and bright-colored fruits like kiwis and grapes are ways to get them, too.
  • Eggs: Egg yolk is a prime source of lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc, which all help reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
  • Nuts like almonds, pecans, walnuts, seeds, and wheat germ are filled with vitamin E, which slows macular degeneration. Vitamins C and E actually work together to keep healthy tissue strong. But most of us don’t get as much vitamin E as we should from food. One handful (an ounce) provides about half of your daily dose of E. Have a small handful of sunflower seeds, sprinkle nuts, seeds, or wheat germ on your salad, or add wheat germ or extra virgin olive oil to your dressing for a big boost.
  • Beans, edamame, lentils, quinoa, and other non-meat protein sources
  • Anchovies, Arctic char, herring, salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, trout, and other fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as DHA, a fatty acid found in your retina. Omega-3 fatty acids keep your heart and brain healthy and may also protect the eyes by reducing inflammation and helping cells to work better. Low levels of DHA have been associated with “dry eye syndrome” (moderate to severe ocular dryness), according to Jimmy Lee, MD, director of refractive surgery at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City. Salmon, sardines, and herring have the most omega-3s, followed by flounder, halibut, and tuna. Try to eat at least 2 servings of cold-water fish each week.
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits), berries, brussels sprouts, papaya, and bell peppers are rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant which has been shown to reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • Turkey, oysters, and crab provide zinc which keeps the retina of your eye healthy. Zinc is also found in other meats, eggs, peanuts, and whole grains.
  • Apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and other orange and yellow vegetables contain beta carotene which is converted by the body into vitamin A which helps prevent night blindness and promotes eye health and vision. Beta-carotene gives food an orange hue and helps the retina and other parts of the eye to function properly.
  • Minimize or avoid sodium (salt) and salty foods: Salt intake may increase your risk of high blood pressure, blood vessel damage, and glaucoma.* Americans regularly eat much more sodium than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 mg, mostly in bread, crackers, cold cuts, condiments, processed foods, sauces, and restaurant meals. The recommended daily limit is even lower (1,500 mg) if you are 51 years or older, African American, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease. Cook from scratch with whole foods as much as possible, and use fresh or dried herbs, unsalted spices, citrus juice, and/or vinegar to enhance flavor (3).
  • Avoid foods with sugar, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, mono- and diglycerides, and other chemicals.
  • Limit processed food, including cold cuts: Processed foods tend to be high in salt, sugar, starches, unhealthy fats, preservatives (nitrate, nitrite, sodium benzoate, sulfites, etc.), and often, empty calories.
  • Eat less meat: While meat offers protein, iron, and vitamin B12, it is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can increase your risk of atherosclerosis.
  • Avoid unhealthy saturated animal fats, trans fats, butter, cream, ice cream, icings, pastries, shortenings, etc., and choose healthy monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado: High-fat diets can cause deposits that constrict blood flow in your arteries. Eyes are especially sensitive to this, due to the small size of blood vessels that nourish them.
  • Limit caffeinated coffee to 2 cups or less daily: Drinking 3 or more cups of caffeinated coffee has been associated with an increased risk of developing exfoliation glaucoma (a type of glaucoma characterized by tiny fibers peeling from the eye’s lens that can cause a pressure build-up), particularly among people with a family history of glaucoma (6).
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet rich in plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables providing folate, magnesium, vitamins A and C, potassium, and other nutrients (4).

Additional tips to protect your eyesight:
  • Always wear sunglasses when necessary: Good sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat can protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Choose sunglasses that protect against all ultraviolet rays, both UVA and UVB (a special label should indicate “100% UV blocking”). Wraparound lenses help protect your eyes from the side. Polarized lenses reduce glare when driving. If you wear contact lenses, some offer UV protection. Exposure to UV rays can damage your retina, increase your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration, as well as, skin cancer on your eyelids. Overexposure to the sun’s rays can also lead to ultraviolet keratitis (sunburn on the epithelium of the cornea, the clear outer part of the eye) which can occur when skiing or in a tanning booth if you fail to wear protective goggles. As with a sunburn, pain, blurry vision, and tearing can start slowly and worsen hours later.
  • Avoid overusing eye drops: Drops that take the red out make your eyes look better, because they temporarily constrict blood vessels. However, the inflammation can return after a few hours when the drops stop working and the blood vessels dilate, making the eyes appear redder than they were to start.
  • Treat dry eyes properly: About 3.5 million women and 1.5 million men in the U.S. suffer from “dry eyes”. Lubricating drops usually come in bottles with preservatives. Using these drops too many times can actually irritate your eyes. It is more costly, but better, to get individual blister packs of artificial tears if you are going to use them more than 4 times a day. When treating itchy eyes, keep your drops in the refrigerator. The coolness may help to reduce the itchy sensation. Avoid rubbing your dry eyes, and use a humidifier, or many houseplants, to increase moisture in your home.
  • Avoid staring too long at any screen: Blinking helps distribute fluid throughout your eyes. But when you focus on a cell phone or computer screen, you blink less often than usual. Try to blink 12 to 15 times per minute. Staring at such devices generally causes you to not blink enough. Your tears evaporate, your vision becomes smeary, and your eyes may burn and water. Reading very small print for prolonged periods of time also forces your eyes to work too hard, so be sure to look up from the screen and look at something far away every so often. One more reason to decrease screen time: Looking at small print on mobile devices may increase the risk of myopia (nearsightedness).
  • Glance away from the computer frequently, every 15-20 minutes if possible, since staring at a screen can cause:
    • Eyestrain
    • Blurry vision
    • Difficulty focusing at a distance
    • Dry eyes
    • Headaches
    • Neck, back, and shoulder pain
  • Additional steps to protect eye health when using a computer:
    • Make sure your glasses or contact lens prescription is up-to-date and adequate for computer use.
    • Some people need glasses to help with contrast, glare, and eye strain when using a computer.
    • Position your computer so that your eyes are level with the top of the monitor. This allows you to look slightly down at the screen.
    • Try to avoid glare on your computer from windows and lights. Use an anti-glare screen if needed.
    • Choose a comfortable, supportive chair. Position it so that your feet are flat on the floor.
    • If your eyes are dry, blink more often.
    • Every 20 minutes, rest your eyes by looking 20 feet away for 20 seconds. At least every two hours, get up to walk around and take a 15-minute break.
  • Be careful with contact lenses: Use fresh cleaning solution daily, and never put contact lenses in your mouth or rinse them in water. Many ophthalmologists recommend daily disposables. Never wear contact lenses in a shower, hot tub, swimming pool, or the ocean. To ensure your eyes get enough oxygen, don’t sleep in your contacts. Also, don’t just order lenses without seeing an eye doctor first to get them fit properly. Otherwise, you increase your risk of getting infections. If the contact lens fits like a suction cup, removing it may cause a small scratch on the cornea which becomes an entry for bad bacteria that may cause serious eye infections.
  • Avoid using old makeup and/or sleeping in it: To avoid exposure to infection-causing bacteria, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends disposing of cosmetics after 3 months. Furthermore, always remove makeup before going to bed.
  • Avoid pouring, spraying, or using caustic chemicals and cleansers in the home or at work carelessly or without eye protection.
  • Wear safety goggles or other eyewear at home, work, and while playing sports to protect eyes from injury: When working with hazardous or airborne materials at home or work, mowing the lawn, using a weed whacker, or doing home repairs, always wear safety glasses or protective goggles. Goggles will protect your eyes from any flying debris which can cause abrasions in the cornea. Make sure that anyone nearby has protective eyewear on, especially children. Certain sports such as ice hockey, racquetball, and lacrosse can also lead to eye injury. Wear helmets with protective face masks or sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses to shield your eyes.
  • Stop smoking and avoid exposure to cigarette smoke: Smoking, exposure to smoke, and air pollution increase the risk of inflammation within the lumen (interior lining) of blood vessels, cataracts, optic nerve damage, and macular degeneration. Such pollutants reduce the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the eyes and increase oxidative stress for all tissues in the body. If you tried to quit smoking before and started smoking again, keep trying. The more times you try to quit, the more likely you are to succeed.
  • Stay physically active and include safe, moderate exercise in your schedule more oftenExercise improves blood circulation which increases the flow of nutrients and oxygen and removal of toxins throughout the body including your eyes, enhances concentration and muscle mass, and can help reduce your weight, blood pressure, and levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, and cortisol stress hormone.
  • Maintain regular eye exams: Visit your ophthalmologist, especially if you have eye-affecting conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to blindness.
  • Pay attention to symptoms: Don’t assume that flashing lights, pain, fuzzy vision, redness, or light sensitivity will vanish automatically, says Anne Sumers, M.D., an ophthalmologist who is a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. If you see things floating around and then turning fuzzy, it could mean your retina is coming off. Go to an ophthalmologist quickly, since a delayed diagnosis can increase the risk of more complex surgery and a worse prognosis for vision recovery.
  • Contact your doctor if you develop a bloodshot eye(s) while on a blood thinner like aspirin or Coumadin: A bloodshot eye or bruise that seems to appear for no reason is often nature’s way of warning you that too much blood thinner is accumulating in your body. Bring these symptoms to your doctor’s attention, if you are taking any kind of blood thinner.
  • Supplements for eye health as you age: If you have or are at risk for AMD certain vitamin supplements may help slow or keep it from getting worse. Formula supplements known as AREDS, after the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies that tested and fine-tuned the formula, combine high doses of most of the nutrients mentioned in the foods above. The newest version, called AREDS 2, is probably good if you get very little lutein and zeaxanthin and considered safe if you are a smoker or recently quit, since it doesn’t contain beta carotene (in very high doses, beta carotene can raise your chances of getting lung cancer). Although AREDS 2 formula supplements can be purchased over the counter, first speak with your eye doctor. Some people should not take high doses of antioxidants. If you do not have AMD, there is no proof that a supplement will prevent it. If you are in your 60s and have a family history of AMD, ask your eye doctor about taking such supplements.

Do everything you can to protect those beautiful eyes!!!

*Glaucoma: A group of diseases of the eye characterized by increased intraocular pressure, resulting in pathological changes in the optic disk and typical visual field defects, and eventually blindness if not treated successfully. Uncommon in domestic animals, except in dogs where several breeds are predisposed.

A normal eye is filled with aqueous humor in an amount carefully regulated to maintain the shape of the eyeball. In glaucoma, the balance of this fluid is disturbed; fluid is formed more rapidly than it leaves the eye, and pressure builds up. The increased pressure damages the retina. If not relieved by proper treatment, the pressure will eventually damage the optic nerve, causing blindness.


  1. “Eat Whole Fruits, Not Juice, to Lower Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes.” 11/01/13.
  2. “Improve Your Health in 2014.” 01/10/14.
  3. “Reduce Dietary Salt and Sodium For Good Health.” 11/08/11.
  4. “The Mediterranean Diet: Delicious, Nutritious, and Heart-Healthy.” 12/31/11.
  5. Muraki, Isao (Research fellow); Fumiaki Imamura (Investigator scientist); JoAnn E Manson (Professor of medicine); Frank B Hu (Professor of nutrition and epidemiology); Walter C Willett (Professor of epidemiology and nutrition); Rob M van Dam (Associate professor); Qi Sun (Assistant professor). “Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies.” British Medical Journal (BMJ). 2013; 347 doi: Published 08/29/13.
  6. Pasquale, L. R.; Wiggs, J. L.; Willett, W. C.; Kang, J. H. “The Relationship between Caffeine and Coffee Consumption and Exfoliation Glaucoma or Glaucoma Suspect: A Prospective Study in Two Cohorts.” Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, 53 (10): 6427-33. 09/21/12. (DOI: 10.1167/iovs.12-10085).

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