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What are the top 7 threats to your vision?

  • Category: Vision
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  • Written By: LVMC Staff
What are the top 7 threats to your vision?

When was the last time you had a problem with your vision? You are often unaware of how important your vision is until you have a problem seeing. Eye pain, blurriness, or decreased eyesight can impair your quality of life. Having optimized eyesight is crucial when it comes to your ability to move about the world, stay safe, and fully enjoy yourself.

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we believe that information is the most empowering resource we can provide to our patients, which is why we are committed to community education about a variety of health topics. In honor of February’s status as Low Vision Awareness Month, here’s what you need to know about the top 7 threats to your vision.

What is a threat to your vision?

A threat to your vision is a factor that puts you at a higher risk of developing eye disease, also known as ocular disease. A threat could also be a behavior that makes it more likely that you will suffer from an eye injury. One of the trickiest aspects of staying on top of your visual health is that threats to your vision usually don’t cause any immediate symptoms. This is why staying informed about the top 7 threats to your visual health is key. While some of the following threats may be out of your control, many are well within your power to avoid.

Vision Threat #1: Smoking Cigarettes

You likely know that smoking cigarettes can cause significant harm to your lungs, interfering with your ability to breathe efficiently and also increasing your risk of lung cancer. But did you know that smoking cigarettes can also impact your vision? When you smoke, the substances present in cigarettes can thicken your blood and make it easier for clots to form, which means that the important arteries that supply blood to your eyes can become compromised. This means you’re more likely to suffer a decrease in blood supply to your eye, which can affect many of the structures of your eye.

  • Smoking one pack of cigarettes a day doubles your likelihood of having a condition known as amaurosis fugax, which is a temporary loss of vision from a stroke.
  • Smoking cigarettes makes you four times as likely to have a condition known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects your ability to see things clearly.
  • Smoking cigarettes has also been connected to a two to three times higher risk of developing cataracts, which is a clouding of the lens of your eye that can make it harder to see.
  • Smoking can increase your likelihood of having dry eyes, which can be irritating and make it harder for you to see.

Fortunately, you can lower your chance of these health threats by quitting smoking.

Vision Threat #2: Hypertension

Having high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) can pose a threat to your vision. When your blood pressure is consistently elevated, it can cause damage to your blood vessels at a microscopic level and damage the structure at the back of your eye, known as your retina. In this condition, known as hypertensive retinopathy, you can have blurred vision or changes in what you see within a given visual field. The best way to avoid this condition is to adopt lifestyle habits that keep your blood pressure within a normal range. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you can avoid damage to your eye by keeping your blood pressure within good control.

Vision Threat #3: Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you are vulnerable to developing an eye condition known as diabetic retinopathy. Consistently elevated levels of blood sugar can cause damage to the structures of your eye, in particular your retina, at the back of your eye. In diabetic retinopathy, you may have blurred vision, which may advance to blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in people ages 20 to 74 in the United States. However, staying on top of your vision care, with annual dilated eye examinations, can help you avoid this outcome even if you have diabetes.

Vision Threat #4: UV Exposure

If you are outside on a day that requires sunblock (which is every day that you have skin exposed—even if it’s cloudy), then you should also be thinking of how to protect your eyes. The same ultraviolet light wavelengths that can cause damage to your skin cells can also harm your eyes. Being in the sun too long without eye protection (from a hat, sunglasses, or both) can change the structure of the lenses of your eyes, making you more likely to develop cataracts. Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the US, according to the National Eye Institute. Other eye problems have also been linked to UV exposure, including pingueculas, pterygiums, eyelid cancers, and even age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Vision Threat #5: Not Wearing Protective Eye Equipment

If you work in an environment that requires protective eye equipment, like safety goggles, it’s important to take these guidelines seriously. Serious eye injuries can occur from not wearing protective eye equipment—including chemical burns and injuries from projectiles. Job-related eye injuries are common in the US (with about 2000 people sustaining an eye injury at work every day). However, experts believe that up to 90 percent of work-related eye injuries can be reduced or even prevented with proper eye protection. Make sure to wear proper eye protection during non-work related activities, too, such as during sporting events with high-velocity projectiles (like ice hockey).

Vision Threat #6: Not Properly Cleaning Contact Lenses

When you don’t properly clean your contact lenses, bacteria or other microbes can grow in your contact lens solution and cause an infection of your cornea known as keratitis. Although this infection can usually be treated with medication, it may cause scarring that can permanently change your vision.

Wearing your contacts for too long, reusing them inappropriately, or accidentally falling asleep in them can all set you up for an infection or put you at risk of a severely painful and vision-limiting condition known as a corneal ulcer.

To avoid visual problems from wearing contacts, the American Academy of Ophthalmology notes it’s important to follow these proper steps of contact lens management:

  • Wash your hands before touching your contacts
  • Rub the lenses while you are cleaning them
  • Rinse the lenses with an official contact lens solution
  • Replace your contact lens case routinely
  • Get new contacts routinely

Vision Threat #7: Screens

It’s nearly impossible to avoid digital computer screens, tablets, or mobile phones in today’s world. You’re likely reading this article on one of these devices. However, excessive use of screens can cause a condition known as “Computer Vision Syndrome,” or digital eye strain. You may have experienced this before if you’ve noticed visual changes after staring at a screen for a prolonged period. You may have also experienced a headache, dry eyes, or tearing as well. This is because your eyes have to work harder when they are staring at a screen than when they are focusing on another material, such as a printed page.

If you’ve been experiencing vision problems that you think may be related to your use of screens, it’s important to try to modify your environment to improve the issue. Experts recommend frequent breaks, adjustment of your lighting, an anti-glare screen, or an adjustment of your sitting position.

How to Avoid the Top 7 Vision Threats

It can feel overwhelming to read through a list of what not to do when it comes to protecting your visual health. However, protecting the health of your eyes—and your health in general—comes down to a few important points:

  • Adopt healthy habits that minimize your risk of developing a condition like diabetes or hypertension that can compromise your eye health. This includes getting the recommended amount of weekly exercise (150 minutes a week), eating a nutritious diet, and avoiding excessive sugar intake.
  • Minimize unhealthy behaviors like smoking.
  • Protect your eyes from UV rays when you are outside.
  • Protect your eyes from work-related hazards by wearing protective eye equipment.
  • Use proper cleaning protocol and usage recommendations when wearing contact lenses.
  • Use moderation when it comes to screen time.

Having a routine vision screening and an annual check-up with your primary care health provider can also help ensure that you don’t develop eye disease or a medical condition that could pose a threat to your vision.

How to learn more about living an eye-friendly lifestyle

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we are laser-focused on helping our patients live their best lives, and having optimal visual health is a vital part of our mission. To learn more about how an eye-healthy lifestyle applies to your personal situation, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our family medicine or internal medicine healthcare providers. They can help evaluate your daily routine and identify areas for improvement, as well as refer you to specialists as needed.