Introduction to eye health

Eye healthThe eyes are important and complex structures in the human body. They enable an individual’s sense of sight, by transmitting light signals to the brain. When exposed to light, the eyes undergo a complex series of chemical reactions. These reactions allow the eyes to absorb light, process colour and transmit nerve impulses to the brain via the optic nerve. This process enables humans to see things.

However the eyes are very sensitive instruments which become damaged if they are exposed to too much light or other toxic substances (e.g. smoke in the environment, chemicals in cosmetic products). They are also dependent on a range of vitamins and nutrients to maintain their proper function (e.g. vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness amongst children in developing countries). There are therefore many ways in which the eyes can potentially be damaged, but also many measures an individual can take to protect against eye diseases and/or disorders.

Anatomy of the eye: Click to see larger image

What to eat for bright healthy eyes

The eyes, like all other organs of the body, depend upon nutrients, vitamins and minerals, to maintain their health and proper function. Thus, the types and quantities of foods an individual eats affects the health of their eyes, and eating the right foods can protect the eyes from a range of diseases and conditions. Preventing eye diseases is particularly important as many disorders are untreatable, cause eyesight to gradually deteriorate and therefore impact significantly on an individual’s quality of life. However many individuals are not aware that their nutritional habits affect the health of their eyes and are unsure which types of foods to eat to protect their eyes’ health. Some of the key factors in healthy eating for bright healthy eyes are:

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables which contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals that protect the eyes. For example leafy green vegetables (e.g. spinach) are a good source of vitamin A, and citrus fruits and tomatoes are rich in vitamin C;
  • Reduce fat and increase fibre intake to prevent diabetes, a metabolic condition which commonly leads to diabetic eye disease;
  • Maintain a healthy body mass index to prevent diabetes.

For more information, see 
Nutrition for Healthy Eyes.

How smoking affects your eyes

Most people know that tobacco smoke generated by an individual smoking a cigarette, pipe, or other tobacco product, can cause damage not only to the individual who is smoking, but also to other people who are exposed to their tobacco smoke. The health conditions most commonly associated with tobacco smoke exposure are cancers and cardiovascular disorders. However cigarette smoking and tobacco smoke exposure also play an important role in the development of eye diseases and disorders. Few people are aware of the dangers smoking poses to the eyes however numerous scientific studies have now demonstrated an association between smoking or passive smoking (i.e. being exposed to another person’s tobacco smoke) and an increased risk of eye disorders.

The best way to prevent the eye diseases associated with tobacco smoke exposure is to quit smoking and avoid being around others who are smoking.

For more information, see The Effect of Smoking on Eye Health.

Protecting eyes from the sun

Eye healthThe damaging effects of over-exposure to sunlight on the skin are well known amongst the Australian population, however the eye damage which can result from sun exposure is relatively little known. Eyes are sensitive instruments which can easily become injured or diseased from exposure to sunlight, because of the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. As it is impossible to avoid exposure to sunlight, it is important that individuals take measures to protect their eyes while they are in the sun, for example by:

  • Wearing a broad brimmed hat;
  • Wearing wrap around sunglasses.

For more information, see Sun Protection for the Eyes.

Healthy eyes in manufacturing, construction and outdoor workplaces

There are a range of agents which can cause eye diseases, disorders or injuries which are found in workplaces. While many of these agents are often also found in everyday living environments exposure at dangerous levels is most likely to occur in the workplace, and thus these conditions are commonly referred to as work-related eye injuries or diseases. Excluding eye disorders related to computer use which are covered separately, work related eye diseases and disorders predominately affect individuals working outdoors or in the construction, manufacturing and service industries. Thus individuals who work in these industries should take measures to protect their eyes, including:

  • Wearing protective eye wear, for example goggles to protect from invasion of foreign objects or sunglasses to protect from UV exposure;
  • Rinsing eyes immediately if they are exposed to chemicals or other toxic substances.

For more information, see Eye Injuries in the Workplace.

Healthy eyes in office environments

The use of computers amongst office workers has increased markedly over the past two decades. This has resulted in an increase in health disorders associated with computer use, the most common of which are eye and vision problems. While eye health problems related to computer use are temporary, they cause significant discomfort to computer users and are largely preventable. Individuals who spend a significant amount of time using a computer each day should:

  • Take regular breaks and perform simple eye exercises;
  • Ensure their workstation is properly set up and the computer screen is at eye level;
  • Ensure their computer screen is free of glare and the images displayed are clear and do not flicker.

For more information, see Office Ergonomics: Preventing Eye Strain.

Eye exercises

Visual training is the practice of exercising the eyes. Visual training can be performed to vision disorders, in particular disorders relating to binocular function (i.e. the misalignment of the eyes). Eye exercises are also commonly used to relieve eyes after long period of focused vision (e.g. computer use).

For more information, see Visual Training for Eye Disorders.

Choosing and using eye cosmetics

Eye healthFacial cosmetics and cleansers can sometimes pass through the eyelids and come into contact with the eye’s surface. Applicators or fingers used to apply eye cosmetics may also sometimes accidentally touch the eye’s surface during the application process. As many cosmetics contain chemicals and their applicators can house unseen dirt and bacteria, exposure of the eyes’ surface to cosmetics and cosmetic applicators can cause eye disorders. However, eye disorders caused by cosmetic use can be avoided, if the right cosmetics are purchased and they are stored and applied in a hygienic manner.

For more information, see Eye Cosmetics.

Facial hygiene for eye health

Bacteria, dirt and other foreign particles on the face can sometimes come into contact with the eye’s surface. Everyday dirt from a garden, soiled clothing, hair or a kitchen bench may also contain chemicals and bacteria. Exposure of the eyes’ surface to these foreign substances can therefore lead to irritations or infections. While these conditions are typically temporary and minor, poor facial hygiene is also associated with serious eye disorders which can cause permanent blindness. Preventing eyes from exposure to dirt and foreign particles is therefore important and can be achieved largely through maintaining good facial hygiene.

The benefit of eye health checks

Eye examinations, sometimes referred to by professionals as visual field tests, are eye investigations performed to detect vision abnormalities or monitoring changes in vision. Having eyes examined regularly is the best method by which individuals can detect changes to the visual field and diagnose the condition/s underlying such changes. Such detection enables early intervention and treatment of emerging conditions, which is typically essential in preventing worsening of symptoms (e.g. vision loss). As many eye diseases remain asymptomatic until vision loss begins, eye examinations are often the only means of detecting eye problems early.

For more information, see Eye Examinations.

Keeping the body fit for healthy eyes

The role of exercise in promoting good health is well known, particularly in relation to preventing cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and obesity. The role of exercise in protecting eye health is relatively little known in the general population and there is also a lack of evidence from scientific studies demonstrating the role of physical exercise in protecting the eyes from vision loss and other disease. Available evidence suggests however, that regular physical activity can protect the eyes from a number of disorders. There is also evidence that exercise protects against cardiovascular disease (a disease which shares many common risk factors with age related macular degeneration, the eye disease which is the leading cause of blindness in Australia) and obesity (which is associated with greater severity of vision loss).


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