Megan Collins is an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a clinician at the Wilmer Eye Institute, where she specializes in pediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus.

When it comes to keeping her eyes healthy, ophthalmologist Megan Collins has a few steadfast rules.

“I never, ever sleep in my contact lenses,” she says, and she never cleans those lenses using tap water, since it doesn’t have the disinfectant properties of cleaning solution and can cause serious eye infections. Another basic hygiene rule: Collins doesn’t share. At least not when it comes to contact lenses. The same goes for makeup. “I never share eye makeup with anyone, or try it on at cosmetic counters,” Collins says.

The key to clear eyesight, Collins says, is a responsible approach to overall health—eating well, exercising, and avoiding cigarettes. A (beta-carotene–packed) carrot a day can help keep the eye doctor away. Collins eats, and encourages patients to eat, a well-balanced diet of leafy greens, fruits, and omega-3–rich fish and nuts, all of which contain nutrients that may prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Eating greens also lowers the risk for developing diabetes, a major cause of vision impairment and loss among adults if left undetected and untreated. “Conditions like hypertension and diabetes can impact the eyes,” Collins says, and diet is the first line of defense against such health problems.

There are also healthy habits that you can create to work out those eye muscles. Collins schedules in breaks when looking at computer screens to avoid eye strain. “If you stare for too long, you might have blurry vision, tearing, or burning eyes,” she says. She suggests stopping at 15-minute intervals and focusing your eyes on a distant point, to work your eye muscles in a different way. It’s also important to get up from your desk and move every hour or so because this allows your eyes to rest while exercising other muscles, too. (Prolonged sitting can lead to higher blood pressure, high blood sugar, body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels, as well as increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.)

The key to clear eyesight is a responsible approach to overall health—eating well, exercising, and avoiding cigarettes.

If the print on your screen or in your books seems to be getting smaller, drugstore-variety magnifying spectacles may be the answer and are safe to use for adults who do not have other eye problems. “I recommend trying out a few different strengths while reading a magazine to see what works best,” Collins says.

When is it time to visit a practitioner? Not everyone needs to see an ophthalmologist or an optometrist annually. If you’re an adult who is under 40 and you haven’t had issues with your eyes and don’t wear corrective lenses, you get a pass from annual visits (though you should ask an eye-care provider how often you should schedule appointments). If you’re over 40, Collins recommends at least one comprehensive dilated eye exam a year, since many eye conditions can be asymptomatic. For instance, glaucoma, affecting 2.2 million people in the United States, is known as the “silent thief of sight” because most types usually cause no pain but if untreated can cause irreversible sight loss.

Another daily habit: sunglasses. Too much UV exposure increases your chances of cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss. Look for lenses with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection, usually indicated on the manufacturer’s label. And while spring and summer are prime times for sunglasses, the season doesn’t matter to UV rays. “I am very conscientious about wearing sunglasses when I am outside, even in winter,” Collins says. Sunglasses are essential regardless of age, so if you have kids, get them a pair as well.

And speaking of kids, if you have young ones at home, their eyes should be checked by a pediatrician annually.  Kids should be referred to a pediatric eye doctor if the pediatrician is concerned about any vision problems. A common condition to look for in kids is whether one or both eyes drift inward or outward, a condition called strabismus. “That needs to be seen by an eye doctor,” says Collins, because if the strabismus isn’t corrected early enough, a child has an increased risk of impaired vision. “Good vision depends on the brain and eyes working well together,” she explains. “If from a very early period in life, you have an eye that isn’t seeing clearly or drifting outward, the brain might not pay enough attention to that eye.”

By Belinda Lanks
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