Eye health may sometimes take a backseat to your other health concerns, but it’s worth considering as a key part of your everyday wellness.Your eyes help you navigate throughout your day, but along the way, you may be putting them at risk without knowing it. Seemingly insignificant things you do (or don’t do) on a daily basis can cause damage that accumulates over time, increasing your chances of being diagnosed with an eye disease or experiencing vision loss.Below are some habits that are silently hurting your eyes and vision according to specialists.
1. You don’t wear sunglasses.
It’s clear that you should be wearing sunglasses when you’re basking on a sunny beach, but it’s also important to wear them in all kinds of weather—and in every season. Long-term exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays without protection can raise your risk of eye disease, including cataracts, macular degeneration, eye growths, and a rare form of eye cancer, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Even short-term exposure to sun reflecting off water can cause a painful sunburn on your eye called photokeratitis, which causes blurry vision, redness, and even temporary vision loss in rare cases.
Your solution: Consistently wear sunglasses that block to 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation, and look for oversized frames for more coverage (wraparound styles are also ideal to protect your eyes from the sides).
2. You don’t put sunscreen on your eyelids.
It may feel funny at first, but you should carefully be putting sunscreen on your eyelids to protect them from the sun when you slather on your SPF.
“You can get skin cancers that affect the eyelids, but it’s actually quite common that patients will not get sunscreen on their eyelids,” says Gary Lelli, MD, an ophthalmologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Having that protection is important.”
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and is caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps, according to the CDC. These rays can damage skin cells, so it’s important to use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
Of course, be careful not to get sunscreen in your eyes when applying it. Mineral formulas made with zinc or titanium dioxide may be good choices since they’re made for sensitive skin, like that around your eyes, per the Skin Cancer Foundation. Stick sunscreens can also double as mess-free protection for your eyelids and surrounding areas.
Rubbing your eyes occasionally likely won’t cause issues, but chronic eye rubbing can lead to weakening of the cornea and keratoconus, or the distortion of the cornea, according to University of Utah Health.
It can also cause your eyelids to lose elasticity over time.
“By rubbing your eyes, you increase the risk of stretching the very delicate eyelid tissues, which can predispose you to develop a droopy eyelid or one that turns out or in,” says Lelli. “These types of eyelid malpositions are quite common as people get older.”
4. You don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.
A healthy diet can help protect your vision for years to come, which is one more reason to pack fruits and vegetables into your diet. Research has linked nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, essential fatty acids, zinc, and lutein and zeaxanthin (found in leafy greens) to a lower risk of certain eye diseases, according to the American Optometric Association.
For example, a December 2015 study of more than 100,000 participants in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology found that a higher consumption of lutein and zeaxanthin through fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration.
Meanwhile, although clinical trial data are limited and evidence has been mixed, eating plenty of vitamin C has been associated with lower risk of cataract formation, says the National Institutes of Health.
5. You spend too much time staring at screens.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be more glued to your screen than ever. However, if you don’t give your eyes frequent breaks to rest, you could be straining them.
The reason staring at a screen strains your eyes more than reading a book is because you tend to blink less while looking at a screen—in fact, screens lower your blink rate by a third to a half and dry out your eyes, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
While research hasn’t found that blue light filtering glasses help relieve digital eye strain, there are a few easy steps you can take: Try to work about 25 inches away from your screen (the eyes have to work harder to see close up than far away), adjust the lighting so your screen isn’t much brighter than the surrounding light in your room, and follow the 20-20-20 rule by taking a break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
6. You sleep in your contacts.
Whether you’re exhausted late at night or could use a nap, take your contacts out first. Sleeping in contacts blocks oxygen from your eye’s cornea, which can lead to corneal neovascularization (an overgrowth of new blood vessels into the cornea), says the National Sleep Foundation. This triggers inflammation, and may even prevent you from wearing contacts in the future.
Catching z’s in your contacts can also lead to serious red eye, ulcers in your eye, or (most commonly) an eye infection. When you sleep in your contacts, you’re more susceptible to microscopic tears on your cornea, which raises the risk of bacteria entering your eye and the development of conjunctivitis.
7. And reuse daily disposable contacts.
If your contacts are only designed for daily use, make sure you toss them out at the end of the day. Using disposable contact lenses beyond their recommended wear and even using expired saline solution can cause eye health issues, per the American Academy of Ophthalmology. If you have reusable contacts, cleaning them properly is also important.
“If you wear contact lenses, you need to get into the habit of practicing safe use of your lenses,” says Lelli. “Taking your contacts out at the end of the day, cleaning them, and all of those things are really important to prevent an eye infection.”
Your eye doctor can give you best practices for safely using your particular prescription.
You want to get the most out of your eye makeup, but it’s important to toss it after three months and get new products, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Infection-causing bacteria can grow particularly well in liquid or creamy eye makeup.
If you do develop an eye infection such as pink eye, throw out all of your eye makeup right away and stop using any until your infection is gone. In general, it’s also best to never share eye makeup—even with your loved ones.
Some makeup tutorials may call for it, but don’t apply makeup on your lash line. By applying eyeliner away from your lash line, you avoid blocking the oil glands located in your upper and lower eyelid. Those glands are important because they secrete oil that protects the eye’s surface, per the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
On the note of makeup, save the glitter for special occasions: Metallic, glitter, sparkle powder, and other makeup can flake off and fall into the eyes, which may lead to irritation. Corneal irritation or infection is commonly caused by glitter eye makeup, especially among those who wear contact lenses. Larger glitter flakes can actually scratch the eye, similar to sand or dirt.
10. You don’t get enough exercise.
Exercise of course benefits your overall health, but it also can protect your eyes specifically. By staying active, you help to prevent or control diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol—all of which can otherwise lead to certain eye or vision problems, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
For instance, diabetes can lead to diabetic retinopathy, which affects blood vessels in the retina and can cause vision loss or even blindness, says the National Eye Institute. High blood pressure or high cholesterol along with diabetes can further increase your risk of diabetic retinopathy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, even high blood pressure alone can damage the tiny blood vessels that supply your eyes with blood, leading to issues such as bleeding and vision loss.
11. You don’t wear goggles when you swim.
When you’re swimming, the chlorine and other chemicals found in pool water can wash away your tear film. The tear film is a moist and thin layer of tears that coats the surface of your eyes and keeps them moist, smooth, and clear, per the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
As a result, your eyes might get uncomfortable and red, and frequent swimmers may eventually develop dry eyes that lead to blurry vision. Plus, not only can chlorine itself cause a reaction that leaves your eyes red and itchy, but any lingering bacteria in the water can also lead to an eye infection like pink eye.
It’s important to protect your eyes by wearing a pair of goggles every time you swim, which will keep pool chemicals out of your eyes and protect your tear film.
You should also splash water on your eyes after swimming to get chlorine and other chemicals off your eyelashes and eyelids, and use lubricating eye drops before and after hitting the pool. Staying hydrated when you’re swimming can also help keep your eyes from drying out.
12. You don’t visit an eye doctor.
Even if you don’t have any vision problems, you should still see an eye doctor in regular intervals to make sure your eyes are healthy—or to detect eye problems at the earliest stage possible. This also gives your doctor the chance to give you tips for better caring for and protecting your eyes, even if you don’t have any symptoms or discomfort.
If you have no vision problems and are healthy, the Mayo Clinic recommends seeing an eye doctor every five to 10 years in your 20s and 30s, every two to four years from ages 40 to 54, every one to three years from 55 to 64, and every one to two years after age 65.
You may need to get your eyes checked more frequently if you wear contact lenses or glasses, have a family disease of eye disease or vision loss, have a chronic disease that increases your risk of eye disease, or take medications that have serious eye side effects.