By Carolyn Hardin, Development Consultant
At Mountain Family Health Centers, we focus on medical, behavioral and dental health. Another important aspect of health is vision. The month of May is designated as Healthy Vision Month, so Mountain Family would like to share some information about keeping your windows to the world healthy and safe.
Our vision is important to us. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says more than 70% of adults report that loss of eyesight would have the greatest impact on their everyday life. Yet 10% of persons ages 18 and over in the United States have never had an eye exam, with the majority saying they don’t think they have any eye problems. However, many eye diseases do not exhibit symptoms in their early stages. The NIH estimates 61 million adults are at high risk for serious vision loss due to eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
This is particularly true for women. Two-thirds of blindness and visual impairment occurs in women. Women are at greater risk because they live longer, are at greater risk for autoimmune diseases, are more likely to undergo cancer treatments that may affect vision, and experience normal age-related hormonal changes that may affect their eyes.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to protect and preserve your vision. The National Eye Institute (a division of the NIH), suggests five ways to make your eye health a priority:
- Have a dilated eye exam. A comprehensive dilated eye exam is the best way to know if your eyes are healthy and you are seeing your best. Talk to your eye care provider about how often you should have one. If you would like to see what your eye care provider sees when he or she is doing this type of exam, click here.
- Live a healthy lifestyle. Eating healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight, managing chronic conditions and not smoking can all lower your risk of eye disease. You have likely heard carrots are good for your eyes, but eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens, is also important for keeping your eyes healthy. Research has also shown there are eye health benefits from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut.
- Know your family history. Talk to your family members— including your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles—about their eye health history. It is important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with an eye disease, since many are hereditary. This will help to determine if you are at higher risk for developing an eye disease yourself and should be shared with your eye care provider.
- Use protective eyewear. Protect your eyes when doing chores outside and around the house, playing sports or on the job to prevent eye injuries from happening. This includes wearing safety glasses, goggles, safety shields and eye guards that are made of polycarbonate. Eyewear should sit comfortably on the face, so talk to your eye care provider about the appropriate type of protective eyewear for your sport or job. Make a habit of wearing the appropriate type always and encourage your teammates and coworkers to do the same. Wear sunglasses.
- Wear sunglasses when outside to protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When purchasing sunglasses, look for ones that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation, to keep your eyes healthy. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can increase your risk for getting an eye disease like cataracts or age-related macular degeneration. A wide-brimmed hat offers great protection as well.
If you do not have an eye care provider, there are many excellent ones to choose from in our area. Most will tell you before you schedule an appointment what the estimated costs will be if you ask. Your primary care provider can likely suggest options as well. There are agencies in the region who can assist with the cost of glasses too. These include Family Resource Centers of the Roaring Fork School District (for students enrolled there), Catholic Charities and local Lions Clubs.
These steps can help you keep your eyes healthy and prevent vision loss and blindness from eye disease. To learn more about Healthy Vision Month and find additional eye health information, visit the National Eye Institute. In the words of Humphrey Bogart, “Here’s looking at you kid.”
Carolyn Hardin is a development consultant for Mountain Family and other nonprofits, with 30 years of experience in public health and human services in the Roaring Fork Valley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column first appeared in the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.