The eyes are known as “the windows to the soul” for good reason – you can tell a lot about someone from their eyes. Our eyes communicate our feelings and reflect our wellbeing to others. It’s easy to forget how amazing our eyes really are and how much they accomplish in our day to day life. They are self-focusing, self-lubricating and self-cleansing. Our eyes are highly complex and involve various structures including the iris, cornea, pupil, sclera and conjunctiva all working together to provide us with sight. We only get one pair in our life, so it’s worth looking after them.

Causes of poor eye health

It is estimated that about half of all Australians experience long term eye problems.1 Many people wear glasses or contact lenses for various eye problems. Other eye problems include blurry vision, poor night vision, dry eyes and sensitivity to light. Fortunately there is much that can be done to support eye health.

  • Age and gender – vision problems are more common as you get older. Women are more likely to suffer than men.1
  • Smoking and heavy alcohol intake – can increase the risk of eye problems and reduce eye health.1
  • Poor diet – a diet lacking in protein and certain nutrients such as vitamin A and vitamin C can lead to eye problems. High fat diets can also be a problem, however good fats such as those obtained from fish may protect eye health.2
  • Too much sun – can lead to some eye problems.3
  • Dehydration – can cause your eyes to become dry and sore.
  • Too much screen time – many of us spend too much time staring at a screen which can cause fatigue and strain.2
  • Family history – some people are more at risk of poor eye health due to genetics. It is worth knowing your family history.2
  • Medical conditions – some medical conditions can reduce eye health. Discuss with your healthcare practitioner if you have concerns.

Symptoms of poor eye health

Symptoms of poor eye can vary depending on the condition. Common signs and symptoms of poor eye health may include:

  • Dry eyes
  • Sore eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Red eye
  • Eye strain and fatigue
  • Age related eye problems
  • Vision problems requiring glasses

Maintaining eye health

Lifestyle factors can impact your eye health. Some simple changes can help maintain healthy eyes. This may include:

  • Don’t smoke or drink too much – research has linked smoking to many age related eye problems. 3
  • Have an eye examination – you may think your eyes are fine but your eye care professional is the only one who can decide if your eyes are at their best. The sooner a condition is detected the better.2
  • Wear protection – protective eyewear when playing sports or doing risky activities around the home are important. Sunglasses with adequate UVA and UVB protection are also essential to protect your eyes.2
  • Rest your eyes – to keep eyestrain under control, try to rest every 20 minutes if you are doing a lot of screen work. This can be as simple as looking about 20 feet away. It sounds silly, but don’t forget to blink regularly if you are focused on what you are doing. This will ensure that you have adequate lubrication to prevent fatigue.2
  • Stay hydrated – dehydration can affect eyesight. If drinking caffeinated beverages or doing a lot of exercise, you may need to increase your water intake.
  • Eat well – a diet rich in fruit and vegetables provides many nutrients important for eye health. It is also important to include fish in your diet the healthy fats found in fish can provide health benefits for the eyes.2
  • Sleep well – during sleep, eyes are lubricated continuously and irritants such as dust or smoke are cleared out.3
  • Exercise for circulation – eye health relies on good circulation and oxygen intake both of which are stimulated by exercise.3
  • Lighten up – you need three times as much light when you’re 60 to see well as when you were 20. Ensure curtains are pulled back and direct light is available.3

Other ways to assist with the management of healthy eyes may include supplements. Nutritional and herbal supplements may assist with general eye health or may have a specific benefit.

  • Bilberry – this herb is widely recognised for supporting eye health. It is also rich in antioxidants that help to decrease the risk of cell damage from free radicals.
  • Fish oil and krill oil – these healthy oils are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which contain DHA. DHA plays a structural and functional role in the nerve tissue and the retina of the eye. If you are buying a supplement, check the label and choose one with a high concentration of DHA.
  • Vitamin A – this important vitamin helps support healthy eye function. It may provide relief from superficial eye problems such as sore, red eyes. It also helps support healthy night vision. Cod liver oil is an excellent source of vitamin A and other good sources include liver, kidney, dairy and eggs.4 We also know to eat our carrots for healthy eyes!
  • Vitamin E – helps maintain healthy eyes and may protect them from damage by free radicals. Good sources of vitamin E include nuts, seeds and wholegrains as well as green leafy vegetables.4
  • Vitamin C – this water soluble vitamin protects against free radical damage in the eye. Good food sources are citrus fruits and vegetables.4

Frequently asked questions

What are antioxidants and why are they important for eye health?

Antioxidants help protect against damage from free radicals and may reduce the amount of damage to the eye.4 Some examples of antioxidants that may help to maintain eye health are called lutein and zeaxanthin.

Spinach is an excellent source of both of these antioxidants. Other foods high in antioxidants are blueberries, green tea and cherries, to name a few.

Are eye exercises important for eye health?

Particularly if you are spending a lot of time in front of a computer, it is important to stop and do some eye exercises to prevent eye strain and fatigue. This can be as simple as looking away from the computer regularly.2

What is lutein and how does it support eye health?

Lutein is an essential pigment for the eyes. It acts a bit like an internal sunglass by filtering out harmful light. It also protects the eyes as an antioxidant.