Sight charity The Eyecare Trust has joined forces with healthcare provider Simplyhealth to warn that many lifestyle choices can pose a serious threat to eyesight. As well as alerting people to the eye health risks posed by obesity, the charity is stressing that smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol consumption can all dramatically increase the risk of sight loss or even blindness.
Smoking is a key factor in the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of blindness in the developed world, which affects 600,000 people in the UK. Yet only 9.7 per cent of Britain’s 13 million smokers are aware of the link between tobacco and blindness, while 92.2 per cent are aware of the risk of lung cancer and 87.7 per cent know that smoking can cause heart disease.
Smokers are twice as likely to lose their sight in later life than non-smokers and they also run a higher risk of developing cataracts, colour vision defects and sore, gritty eyes.
60 per cent of people have no idea that what they eat can affect their eye health. This is despite the fact that eating just one portion of oily fish – containing omega-3 fatty acids – each week can reduce your risk of developing AMD by over 40 per cent.
Other foods which score highly for eye health include leafy green vegetables, carrots, melons, papaya, tomatoes, red peppers, blueberries, plums red grapes and aubergines. These contain beneficial substances such as antioxidants, carotenoids and lutein. Simply eating three portions of fruit a day has been shown to reduce the risk of developing AMD by more than a third.
While a small amount of red wine can actually be beneficial for your eyes as it contains powerful antioxidants, too much alcohol will interfere with your liver, reducing the production of glutathione which prevents a particular kind of cell damage that can lead to the development of cataracts, glaucoma and retinopathy.
Regular exercise – about 30 minutes, five times a week – will not only help your general health but is an excellent way to increase the oxygen supply to the retina and optic nerve, as well as lowering the pressure that builds up in the eye. Reducing this interocular pressure can help control conditions such as glaucoma and ocular hypertension.
Raman Sankaran of healthcare provider Simplyhealth said: “At Simplyhealth, we think health is the most important thing of all. There are many lifestyle choices that can have an impact on eye health and we would urge everyone not only to think about their lifestyle, but also to have regular eye examinations. Attending a sight test needn’t be expensive or act as a barrier to good eye health as there are many options available to help people budget for eyecare, such as a cash plan from Simplyhealth.”
Eyecare Trust chairman Iain Anderson said: “There is growing evidence that lifestyle factors play a significant role in determining the long-term health of our eyes. Making the right lifestyle choices from the start can help preserve your vision. However, it’s never too late to make changes, as in some instances vision that is already in decline can be restored by following a healthy diet, taking regular exercise and generally cutting down on the things that we know are bad for us like cigarettes and alcohol!”
For more eye health facts and to take an on-line sight test visit www.nationaleyeweek.co.uk.