When I think about how to stay healthy, I seldom think about eye health. But with glaucoma being the leading cause of blindness in African-Americans, and half of those with the conditions not even knowing they have it, your eyes really should be more of a priority.
You might think that because you're young you are immune to going blind, but Blacks develop glaucoma an average of 10 years earlier than any other ethnicity. This disease, which causes damage to the optic nerve—usually due to eye pressure—can be passed down from your parents; having diabetes and hypertension raises your chances too.
There's no cure, and symptoms like loss of peripheral vision are pretty subtle, so regular eye doctor visits are key. If you catch it early, your doctor may be able to stop any further damage from happening. But before it gets to that point, take action at home to promote eye health:
Be shady. Just like sun can damage your skin, it can damage your eyes too. Wear sunglasses that keep out 99 to 100 percent of ultraviolet rays, and contact your doctor right away if you notice your eyes are itchy, feel gritty or are red for a long time.
Eat for your eyes. Carrots are good for your eyes because they have carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, essential chemical building blocks. If you want to hit the eye health jackpot, though, go for leafy greens like kale, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens and broccoli.
Clean safely. When you're cleaning with bleach or harsh chemicals, or even just mowing the lawn (because of flying objects) you really should be wearing goggles. Look for ones with the code "ANSI Z87.1"; this means that they're approved by the American National Standards Institute for Safety.
Be a regular. It's important to catch eye diseases and disorders early, and because a lot of diseases can go unnoticed until it's too late, regular eye doctor visits are so important. Adults ages 18 to 40 should have an eye exam every one to two years.
Adjust your computer. Between updating your iPhone, checking Facebook and just being at work, people spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, putting them at risk for computer vision syndrome. Symptoms include eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision and dry eyes; it can be alleviated by centering screen 20 to 28 inches away from your eyes and four to five inches below eye level.
Be on guard. Knowing the warning signs is half the battle to staying healthy. If you start noticing trouble adjusting to light or dark, difficulty focusing, sensitivity, a change of color, pain, double vision, dark spots or halos, dry or watery eyes, flashes of light, or loss of peripheral vision, it is time to contact your doctor immediately.
For more information on eye health and safety, visit the American Optometric Association.
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