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Preventive Maintenance: Look Out for Your Eyes

Of your five senses: hearing, touch, sight, smell or taste, which one are you most afraid of losing? If you answered "sight," then you are among the majority. And, if you're like the rest of us, you p...

Of your five senses: hearing, touch, sight, smell or taste, which one are you most afraid of losing? If you answered “sight,” then you are among the majority. And, if you’re like the rest of us, you probably take your sight for granted.

So what can we do to make sure our eyes keep seeing down the road?

First of all, protect them with sunglasses (wraparounds are best). Did you know that simple exposure to the sun damages your eyes? Light-coloured eyes: blue, green, hazel or grey are more easily hurt. But a pair of good quality sunglasses can block 99 to 100 per cent of UV radiation. Look for your sunglasses’ UV rating because price doesn’t guarantee quality. Sunglasses without UV protection damage your eyes when worn outside. Normally in the sun, your eyes squint and your pupils constrict. This restricts the amount of UV rays entering your pupil. However, with sunglasses on, you don’t squint and your pupil actually dilates, allowing more harmful UVs to enter the eye. So, if there’s no UV protection built into the lens itself, you’re damaging your eyes!

The most protective lens shades are brown, amber, green and grey. Be sure the lenses aren’t scratched or distorted. And choose shatterproof plastic ones because they won’t cause as much harm in case of an accident.

You should wear sunglasses every day because UV rays are present even on cloudy days. UV is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. during spring and summer. Be careful around any reflective surfaces: your windshield, snow, bright sand and water because the UV can reflect into your eyes from below. High altitudes increase your risk, as well as being closer to the equator. So do some medications, so ask your doctor.

As well, protect your eyes with safety glasses. If there’s even a remote possibility of a foreign substance/object flying through the air, put on goggles! Flying wood chips, shards of metal, or bungee cords could all permanently affect your sight. Doing the right thing could make the difference between minor eye damage, and permanent injury or blindness.

Here are some tips if an accident does occur:

If some foreign object (dust, insects, dirt, grit, etc.) gets in your eye, don’t rub it! Instead, pull your upper eyelid down over your lower lid and let the lower eyelashes sweep away the particles by blinking repeatedly. Your tears should wash the irritation away. If this doesn’t work, flush your eye with clean water.

If something is embedded in your eye, don’t try to get it out. Don’t rub your eye, apply any pressure, or wash the eye out; that would damage your eye more. Head straight to the hospital.

If a chemical splashes into your eye, flush them out with clean water for at least 10 minutes (make sure you gently hold your eye open so the water actually washes over your eyeball). If you’re wearing contact lenses, take them out immediately! Then head for the nearest ER.

If you get a black eye, use a cold compress to stop the swelling. But if the discolouration is very deep, you may have a more serious injury, so have a doctor check it out.

You should also have your eyes tested regularly, and not just to have your glasses changed. If you’re 40 or older you should have your eyes tested every other year. Eye tests can reveal serious conditions that are often overlooked. Glaucoma (which can lead to serious sight loss or blindness) often goes unnoticed until it’s untreatable, but can be diagnosed with a simple eye test. Some other eye-health problems that can be diagnosed during an eye examination are corneal ulcers, cataracts and macular degeneration.

Don’t forget to feed your eyes the nutrients they need. Certain foods can help safeguard your vision. Vitamins A, C, E and Zinc are fundamental. Also the antioxidants: lutein and zeaxanthin, clean up the free radicals floating around in your eyes (and act as natural sunglasses).

You get lutein and zeaxanthin in dark-coloured fruits and vegetables, such as: spinach, squash, sweet corn, kale, broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, orange peppers, peas, kiwi fruit, grapes, oranges, mango, papaya, peaches, prunes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, melon, courgettes and dark green lettuce. Aim for two to four servings of these every day.

Focus on keeping your eyes healthy. If you keep looking out for them, they’ll keep looking out for you. n

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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