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5 Completely Preventable Eye Issues to Watch Out For

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Do you ever nod off in your contacts?

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Taking a quick nap in your contacts. Going for a walk without sunglasses. Staring at your computer screen for hours. As it turns out, some of the most mundane everyday habits can lead to eye problems. Want to see healthily into the future? These simple changes can help protect your vision.  

The problem: You’re outside, but you’re not wearing sunglasses.  

You’d never dream of leaving the house without sunscreen on your skin, but do you always wear sunglasses? Your eyes can get a form of sunburn, too. Called photokeratitis, this condition occurs when UV rays harm the eye’s surface, either by looking at the sun directly or because UV rays have been reflected back into your eyes by surfaces like sand or snow. Symptoms can include pain, redness, blurriness, and swelling. You may also become sensitive to light and feel grittiness, like there’s something in your eye. While these symptoms are usually temporary, they can be painful, says Samuel D. Pierce, O.D., president of the American Optometric Association. He recommends using over-the-counter rewetting drops to help your eyes feel better, but also recommends seeing your eye doctor if you’re still uncomfortable after 24 hours. 

How to stay safe: For some people, even a few hours of sun exposure can cause damage, Dr. Pierce says. Wear UV-protective sunglasses each time you leave the house, even on cloudy days. Even better, pair them with a wide-brimmed hat. Remember that your eyes need protection if you’re around any source of UV light, like tanning beds or welding arcs, too.  

The problem: Wearing glasses or contacts gives you a headache.  

This is a sign that you need to make an appointment with your eye doctor, Dr. Pierce says, especially since prescriptions are only good for a year. If your prescription isn’t accurate, your eyes have to work harder. This can cause eye strain, blurry vision, and headaches. 

How to stay safe: Get a vision checkup at least once a year. Not only will your eye doctor update your prescription, but he or she will also monitor the overall health of your eyes. If your prescription is up-to-date but you still find yourself experiencing headaches from time to time at your desk, you may be experiencing common tension headaches, which can also happen from long computer usage. Keep an OTC pain reliever like Advil handy to help relieve the ache — and give yourself permission to get up and take a short walk while you’re at it. 

The problem: You do yardwork, build crafts, or play sports without protective eyewear.  

A number of common activities can lead to eye injuries, like mowing the lawn, assembling furniture, or taking your kids to the batting cages.  

How to stay safe: “Regular use of eye protection on the job, at home, and while playing sports can prevent up to 90 percent of eye injuries,” Dr. Pierce says. Wear protective goggles or glasses with side shields. Although it may not look cool, it’s more stylish than an eye patch. 

The problem: You nod off in non-nighttime contacts.  

Only some specific types of contact lenses are approved for nighttime use; even then, sleeping in contacts can increase your risk of infections. Shutting your eyes with a lens in creates a warm environment that encourages bacteria growth, Dr. Pierce says. Incorrect usage of your contacts can lead to infections like keratitis, which you’ll need a doctor to help you treat. 

How to stay safe: One-third of contact lens wearers confess to sleeping in their lenses. If you’re one of them, stop and take them out before you take a nap or go to bed. Although some contacts are approved for extended wear, it’s still smart to remove them, Pierce says. It gives your eyes a break and a chance to breathe.  

The problem: For hours each day, you stare at a computer, television, or smartphone.  

These screens emit a type of light called blue light. It reduces contrast, especially if it’s brighter than your environment, forcing your eyes to work harder. What’s more, people tend to blink a third to half as much as normal when they’re looking at a digital device. This combination sets the stage for digital eye strain, a condition that can make your eyes feel sore or irritated. And because blue light affects your sleep-wake cycle, it can keep you up at night. 

How to stay safe: Follow the 20-20-20 rule, Dr. Pierce recommends. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something at least 20 feet away. This gives your eyes a chance to rest and refresh. Reducing the glare on that screen can also help; turn off overhead lights and use low-wattage lamps. At night, avoid screens before bed, and switch your phone to nighttime color settings if they’re available so that when you’re ready to go to sleep, you can. 

Get more great health and wellness stories at MarthaStewart.com/Strive.