8 ways to keep your eye vision sharp as the years pass

Eye-sight is a precious gift, which is why deteriorating vision can be one of the most discouraging aspects of getting older. But there is plenty you can do throughout your life to protect your eyes as you age:

Open your eyes and say Ah. The National Eye Institute recommends that everyone age 50 or older visit an eye care professional for a dilated eye exam. Even if you’re not over 50, get regular exams. Some eye problems, such as glaucoma, occur gradually without obvious symptoms until there’s permanent vision loss. Early detection and treatment can prevent this.

Watch what you eat. A poor diet can lead to inflammation and increase your risk of cataracts, macular degeneration and other problems. Limit your calories and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and fish. Some foods, like blueberries, can actually promote eye health.

Get sweaty. Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity-related problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure conditions that can cause vision damage and even blindness.

Don your shades. Sunlight contains damaging ultraviolet (UV) and high-energy visible (HEV) radiation that may increase your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Since damage from solar radiation is cumulative, start shielding your eyes from the sun with UV- and HEV-blocking sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat the earlier in life, the better.

Give your eyes a breather. Contact lenses collect bacteria and reduce the amount of oxygen reaching your eyes, increasing your risk of eye infections. Thats especially true if you wear them overnight or don’t clean and replace them as directed. If you wear contacts, have prescription glasses on hand to give your eyes a break at the end of the day and other times when they feel tired.

Avoid smoking. Smoking increases your risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. Quit or don’t start.

Be safe. Wear safety glasses whenever you are working with power tools, playing sports or doing anything that could potentially cause an eye injury.

Watch your vision. Symptoms such as flashes of light or a sudden increase in floaters could indicate a detached retina a medical emergency that must be treated immediately to avoid permanent vision loss. Call your eye doctor right away if you have any sudden and unusual visual symptoms.

Gary Heiting, O.D., is associate editor of allaboutvision.com and has more than 25 years of experience as a clinical optometrist