Now You See Me, Now You Don’t: The Best And Worst Habits For Eye Health

The CDC reports that 90% of blindness cases are preventable. Most vision problems result from infections, chronic conditions, and improper eye care. And yet, a 2019 survey found that most people consider sight as their most valuable sense. So why do we ignore eye health?

If you want to maintain your vision throughout life, learn what to do–and NOT do–for your eyes. Simple actions such as lying down while reading or misapplying makeup can damage your vision. Here are the do’s and don’ts of eye health.

We Know It’s Hard, But Don’t Stare At A Screen For Too Long

A woman presses her hands against her forehead while working on her laptop.
Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As more and more people work on computers all day, eye problems are common. The condition now has a name: Computer Vision Syndrome. According to the American Optometric Association, digital screens force the eyes to work harder. This strain may result in problems over time.

There are many ways to save your eyes from Computer Vision Syndrome. Optometrists recommend giving your eyes a 15-minute break for every two hours of screen time. Some apps reduce screen light on your phone, laptop, or tablet for easier viewing.

Wear Sunglasses (The Right Ones)

A woman wears sunglasses while out at a park.
Henk Seppen/BSR Agency/Getty Images
Henk Seppen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Whenever you don’t wear sunglasses, you’re putting your eyes at risk. Dr. Wayne Bizer, a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, emphasizes that UV rays are incredibly harmful to your eyes. They also force you to squint, which creates lines around your eyes.

Some sunglasses don’t offer UV protection. Avoid those glasses; they won’t help your eyes. Search for a pair with a sticker guaranteeing that they block UVA and UVB rays. Wear sunglasses when it’s snowy or cloudy, too. The clouds scatter the light, and it becomes even more dangerous.

Don’t Read While Lying Down

A girl reads Harry Potter in bed.
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Although many people read while lying in bed, doing this too often can harm your eyes. You won’t lose your vision, says Raleigh Eye Center, but your eyes could be strained. Eyes are more used to looking down while focusing, not looking up. The strange angle forces the eyes to work harder.

Over time, reading while lying down strains the muscles around your eyes. This condition is called asthenopia, and it could give you headaches, blurry vision, or eye discomfort. If you read in bed, prop yourself up, or don’t read for long periods.

Drink Water To Cry More

A woman drinks from a water bottle.
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Tears don’t only appear when you cry. They are constantly moisturizing your eyes to help you see better. When you’re dehydrated, your body can’t produce tears. Over time, you can get dry eyes or even Dry Eye Syndrome, explains Optimax Eye Surgery. Dry eyes may manifest in blurry vision, stinging, or itchiness.

Research in Clinical & Experimental Ophthalmology linked dehydration to retinal vascular disease and cataracts. On the other hand, excessive hydration can irritate your eyes, too. If your eyes feel itchy or irritated, check whether you’ve had water recently.

The More Sugar You Eat, The Worse Your Eyes Get

A woman holds up a gummy eyeball in front of her eye.
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Roberto Pfeil/picture alliance via Getty Images

Believe it or not, a poor diet can speed up vision loss. In The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study reported that eating too much sugar increases your chance of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This condition occurs naturally with age, but a poor diet will make it arrive earlier.

A high-sugar diet can also raise the risk of other diseases, says Piedmont Eye Center. High blood sugar can swell your eyes, and high blood pressure may lead to glaucoma. Watch out for added sugars that can sneak into processed foods.

The Best Nutrients For Eye Health

A person sorts through freshly-grown garlic.
Yelena AfoninaTASS via Getty Images
Yelena AfoninaTASS via Getty Images

While a sugar-heavy diet worsens your eyes, a meal rich in antioxidants helps them. The American Academy of Ophthalmology confirms that a healthy diet can slow the progression of AMD and cataracts. Age-Related Eye Disease Studies determined that vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids improve eye health.

According to a study in the Clinical Interventions in Aging, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and legumes can improve your eye health. Fresh food offers antioxidants that protect the body from inflammation.

Why Washing Your Hands Helps Your Vision

A woman washes her hands with soap.
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Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

Every time you touch your face, millions of germs transfer to your eyes. Research in Contact Lens and Anterior Eye found that not washing your hands raises your chances of microbial keratitis and corneal inflammation.

Be especially cautious while handling contacts; one in five contact applications damages the cornea. Dr. Edward Bennett says that contact lenses can easily become contaminated if you don’t clean your hands. Before touching your eyes, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, and dry them with a clean towel.

Follow The 20-20-20 Rule

A man wearing glasses looks intensely at his phone.
Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If you look at screens often, you may want to follow the 20-20-20 rule. On average, people usually blink 15 times per minute. But this amount decreases by 66% while looking at a screen, says the University of Iowa. By taking “blinking breaks,” you rest your eyes enough to prevent eye strain.

While looking at a computer or TV, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, stare at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Twenty seconds is long enough for your eyes to rest fully. While looking away, make sure that you blink a few times.

How People Can Misuse Makeup

A woman applies eye shadow.
Peter Steffen/picture alliance via Getty Images
Peter Steffen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Wearing makeup is safe if you apply it correctly. If you put makeup too close to your eye, such as on the waterline, it may scratch your cornea. Makeup that isn’t properly sealed or clean may spread bacteria, says InSight Vision Center. Some people may get conjunctivitis or an allergic reaction from using expired or contaminated makeup.

Ophthalmologist Dr. Shalini Sood-Mendiratta recommends replacing your makeup after three months. Never share makeup, and don’t put anything on the waterline. Watch out for irritating ingredients such as kohl and BHA, especially if you have sensitive eyes.

Take Out Your Contacts Before Bed!

A woman puts in a contact lens.

If you wear contacts, always take them out before sleeping. Otherwise, you could permanently damage your eyes, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Contacts reduce oxygen flow to your cornea. In response, the body may overgrow blood vessels, a condition called neovascularization. If enough damage occurs, you may never wear contacts again.

Sleeping with contacts also increases your risk of eye ulcers, red eyes, and infections. “It’s important to give the eyes a break and let the cornea breathe,” Dr. Allison Babiuch told Cleveland Clinic.

Why You Shouldn’t Rub Your Eyes

A close-up shows a woman rubbing her eye.
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If you catch yourself rubbing your eyes, stop. According to the International Journal of Ophthalmology, rubbing your eyes places pressure on the cornea. Over time, the cornea may thin and become distorted, resulting in a condition called keratoconus. In short, it may harm your vision, and you may need a corneal graft.

If it feels like something is in your eye, try not to rub it. This can move the object around and scratch your cornea. Instead, use artificial tears to flush out your eye, says Simon Eye Institute.

You Can Use Too Many Eye Drops

A man puts eye drops into his eye.
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Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images

Eye drops are the most common treatment for glaucoma, itching, and redness. But only use these drops as needed because too much can worsen your vision. The Society Forum Access and Research Group claims that over-using eye drops could worsen the very problem you’re trying to manage.

Too many artificial tears can prompt red eyes, and too many eye drops can make glaucoma rebound. Plus, using the wrong eye drops can harm your eyes, says Golden Optometric. Take care to use only your eye drops as prescribed.

Keep A Light On While Watching TV At Night

A man watches a soccer game at night.

Although nighttime is the most convenient time to watch TV, it does not help your eyes. In 2006, scientists from the Lighting Research Center explored the damage from watching TV at night. The lighting contrast between a dark room and a bright screen strains the eyes, explains lead researcher John Bullough.

After watching TV at night, participants struggled to respond to visual cues quickly and methodically. If you look at a screen in the evening, keep some light on, even low-level light. Rest your eyes if they feel itchy, watery, or fatigued.

Wear Eye Protection When You Need It (Even At Home)

A protective eye mask lies on a white table.
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According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2,000 American workers receive eye injuries each day. The Bureau of Statistics says that three out of five eye injuries are caused by not wearing protective equipment.

Even at home, you should wear proper eye equipment while working with plumbing, construction, or electricity. Handling dust, hay, or chemicals may also irritate your eyes. Store a pair of safety glasses with your tools, and remember to wear protective gear if your work requires it.

Insomnia Leads To Dry Eyes

A woman sleeps on a couch.
Marcus Cooper/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Marcus Cooper/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Have you ever noticed that your eyes burn or itch after not getting enough sleep? That’s because staying awake dries out your eyes. According to Florida Eye Specialists and Cataract Institute, eyes need sleep to rest and rehydrate fully.

The CDC reports that most American workers receive less than six hours of sleep per night. For the sake of your eyes and work performance, you should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep. In the worst-case scenario, not sleeping could inflame blood vessels and result in the loss of vision.

Incorrect Contact Care May Cause Disease

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According to the CDC, over one million doctor appointments result from eye infections–most coming from improper contact care. If you want healthy eyes, take care of your contact lenses. “Wearing contacts and not taking care of them properly is the single biggest risk factor for Keratitis,” says medical epidemiologist Jennifer Cope.

Always wash your hands before handling contacts. Keep your lenses away from water and disinfect them after each use. Forty-five percent of Americans use their contacts longer than prescribed; don’t be one of them. Take care of your eyes.

You Can Drink Caffeine, But Only Moderately

A woman holds a Starbucks coffee as she walks down the street.
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Although a myth declares that caffeine harms your eyes, the opposite may be true. When eyes become dry, they don’t produce enough tears to clean themselves. Caffeinated drinks can help produce tears, according to studies from both Japan and Ghana. That said, a caffeinated drink won’t cure your dry eyes as well as artificial tears.

However, you only receive benefits from a moderate amount of caffeine. Harvard researchers determined that drinking more than three cups of coffee per day may increase your risk of glaucoma. Moderate intake consists of one or two cups of coffee per day.

Annual Eye Exams Prevent Disease

Light shines on a woman's eye during a vision exam.
Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images
Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images

Ophthalmologists recommend getting an eye exam every year. And this isn’t just for vision, says Boulder Medical Center. Ophthalmologists will also search for early signs of disease. Doctors can see tumors and melanoma. By looking at the blood vessels, they can spot early signs of high blood pressure.

Eye exams can catch early signs of cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and AMD. The CDC emphasizes that early diagnosis is crucial for treatment. Keep in mind that vision screenings are not the same as an eye exam.

How Lighting Up Hurts The Eyes

A woman stubs out her cigarette in an ash tray.

Lighting doesn’t just harm your lungs; it can also result in permanent vision loss. The New York Department of Health links substance abuse to cataracts, AMD, glaucoma, dry eye syndrome, and diabetic retinopathy. At the very least, you can get blurry vision and struggle to recognize faces, says the CDC.

According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, smokers are twice as likely to develop AMD early in life than non-smokers. If you already have AMD, quitting can slow its progression. It can also save your vision later in life.

Strengthen Your Muscles And Your Vision

A woman jogs outside.
Mikhail TereshchenkoTASS via Getty Images
Mikhail TereshchenkoTASS via Getty Images

Did you know that exercise can aid your eyes and your heart? Several studies have linked a lack of exercise to eye diseases. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, many eye problems result from high blood pressure and cholesterol. Working out can alleviate these issues.

In the British Journal of Opthalmology, researchers linked exercise to a 70% lower chance of getting AMD. Another study concluded that people who work out for 30 per day were 35% less likely to get glaucoma.