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UPMC Expert: Does Your Lifestyle Affect Your Eyes?

We are all aware of the impact certain lifestyle choices — smoking, activity level, sleep — can have on our health and wellness, but do many of us consider how these decisions also affect our eye health? Our eyes are an essential organ, yet we often take them for granted. Your daily habits can affect your eye health a great deal and, without proper precautions and care, can lead to problems with your eyesight.

Lifestyle Choices That Affect the Eyes

From time to time, most of us make unhealthy lifestyle choices. Many people occasionally eat a fatty meal, skip a workout, or do not get enough sleep. But when unhealthy habits become the norm, it might be time to consider making some changes. Below are a few examples of unhealthy habits that can negatively affect eye health.
– Too much UV light or sunlight exposure: Overexposure to sunlight, especially unprotected, can increase your risk of developing certain eye diseases. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, exposure to UV rays from the sun can increase your risk of macular degeneration, cataracts, and skin cancer.

– Lack of sleep: During sleep, our body undergoes cellular repair and regeneration, which is vital for maintaining healthy eye tissues and structures. This process helps combat age-related eye issues such as cataracts and macular degeneration. While we sleep, our eyes are closed which bathes our eyes in cleansing and soothing tears, which helps nourish the eye tissue, and allows our eyes to rest and recover from daily activities that cause strain, such as staring at screens or reading, relieving dryness, redness, and discomfort.

– Unhealthy diet: Being overweight can increase your risk of eye problems in a few ways. For instance, being overweight increases your risk of developing diabetes. People with diabetes carry a higher risk of vision loss from diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Obesity also raises your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, which may negatively affect vision.

– Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Tobacco smoke, including second-hand smoke, also causes dry eye. Smoking also raises the risk for cardiovascular diseases which can indirectly influence your eye health.

– Screen time: Screens are everywhere in our lives and while using screens won’t blind you, spending too many hours staring at a screen can cause uncomfortable symptoms and, over time, even damage your eyes or develop into computer vision syndrome. This is especially concerning in children who can develop nearsightedness (myopia) or progression of nearsightedness from excessive screen use. Screens cause us to blink less often and the movement on the screen makes your eyes work harder to focus. Also, we typically do not position the screen at an ideal distance or angle, which can cause added strain.

Tips to Protect Your Eyes

There are easy steps you can take to adjust your lifestyle and reduce your risk of eye strain or damage, including:

– Wear sunglasses – Sunglasses with 100% UV protection are necessary protection from solar radiation and polarized lenses reduce glare which causes eye strain and fatigue.

– Adjust lighting – Most screens have a brightness adjustment. Make sure that your screen isn’t brighter than the surrounding light, or your eyes will have to work harder to see. Adjust your room lighting or your screen lighting and increase the contrast on your screen to reduce eye strain.

– Give your eyes a break – When it comes to screens, the American Ophthalmological Society recommends using the 20-20-20 rule to reduce eye strain. Take a break every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This gives your eyes a break and allows them to refocus.

– Keep eyes moist – Consider using artificial tears to lubricate your eyes when they feel dry.

– Get good sleep – Adults should aim for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Establish a consistent sleep schedule, create a sleep-friendly environment that’s dark, cool, and quiet, and limit screen time before bed which promotes relaxation and allows the eyes to adjust before sleep.

– Get active and eat healthily – Many studies have shown that exercise, moderate activity for 30 minutes a day, and a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables can protect against blinding eye diseases, such as macular degeneration and glaucoma. Eating a diet rich in plant-based foods and low in saturated or animal fats is best for healthy eyes.

– Yearly eye exam – Get a yearly eye exam so your ophthalmologist or optometrist can check your eye health and determine if any chronic eye conditions are developing.

If you’re concerned about your eyesight or are experiencing symptoms, an ophthalmologist or optometrist can evaluate to assess your overall eye health. If you have questions about managing a healthy lifestyle, talk to your primary care provider for support in a personalized approach to better health.

By: Keying Yan, O.D., M.S.
Ophthalmologist, UPMC

Keying Yan, O.D., M.S., is an ophthalmologist with UPMC Ophthalmology located at 1705 Warren Ave., Suite 303, Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Yan, call 570-320-7850. For more information about Ophthalmology services at UPMC in North Central Pa., visit