There's no doubt that our eyes are one of our greatest gifts. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we close them when we hit the sack, our eyes help us to steer through our day — whether it's making lunch, driving to work, working in front of a computer or relaxing in front of the TV, our eyes are essential tools that help us navigate through our day.
But, let's be real — given how much we depend on our vision, is eye care really one of our top priorities? If you really think about it, you'll see that your eyes are working extra-long shifts, and like any muscle in your body, need rest, relaxation and care.
But, don't most of us just take our eyes for granted?
Sure, it may seem futile to take care of your eyes, especially when you feel nothing is wrong with them, but as most eye doctors will tell you, preventative eye care done now may avert eye problems like macular degeneration in the future — when you want to enjoy the golden years of your life.
Now, you might be thinking that I do follow eye care practices, like seeing my eye doctor annually or even wearing sunglasses when I'm outdoors, however, there are so many other ways you could be damaging your vision that you may not even realize.
In this post, we'll uncover 23 eye care mistakes that could be sabotaging your vision, and how to catch them before they turn into bigger problems.
Table of Contents
- Top 23 Eye Care Mistakes That Can Ruin your Vision
- Ignoring long-term eye problems
- Disregarding eye injuries
- Touching or rubbing your eyes hard
- Not cleaning your eyelashes
- Not practicing eyelid care
- Sleeping with contact lenses on
- Skipping contact lens care
- Showering or swimming in your contacts
- Using old eye drops and solution
- Overusing redness relief eye drops
- Putting eyeliner on your waterline
- Falling asleep with eye makeup on
- Failing to blink
- Staring at digital devices for long hours
- Wearing sunglasses only when the sun is out
- Wearing regular shades on high-altitudes
- Children don't need sunglasses
- You don't wear eye protection
- Thinking you don't need an eye exam
- You don't know what runs in your family
- You think vision loss is normal as you age
- You smoke
- You don't take eye supplements
- Key Takeaways
Ignoring long-term eye problems
Have itchy, gritty eyes? Redness? Sensitivity to light? Whitish or yellow discharge? Although watery and itchy eyes could just be allergies, they could also mean something more serious, such as an eye infection. If you're one of those people who tends to ignore health issues and think they will just resolve on their own (even after long-term symptoms), when it comes to your eyes, you need to be extra careful.
An untreated eye infection can damage your eyes, and if the infection is contagious, you may even spread it to others around you. Even if you just seem to have dry eye, prolonged redness, or slightly blurred vision, don't just shrug these symptoms off — visit your eye doctor to make sure these are not symptoms of a more serious underlying issue that may need treatment.
Disregarding eye injuries
We've all experienced getting poked in the eye one time or another, but if you hurt your eye and seem to have any of the symptoms below, it's best to get it checked out at the earliest.
Book an appointment with your ophthalmologist if you notice any of the following:
- Can't see properly
- Have difficulty opening your eye
- See specks of blood in the sclera (white part of the eye)
- Can't rotate your eye properly
- Have eye pain and swelling
- Find that one pupil (the hole at the center of the iris) is bigger or irregular than the unhurt eye
Touching or rubbing your eyes hard
Have that uncontrollable itch in your eye? While it's okay to sometimes rub your eye to calm an itch or when your eyes are tired — doing it constantly is asking for trouble.
If you do have to rub, make sure your eyelids are closed and rub gently from the outside. Putting a lot of pressure on your eye with vigorous rubbing may break blood vessels and cause inflammation.
Another reason to lay off from touching your eyes is that you risk transferring germs and dirt from your hands directly to your eyes. So, if you shake your hands with someone with the flu and then rub your eye, you may catch that infection by transmitting the virus from your hands to your eyes.
Your eyes also have mucous membranes (moist tissue that attracts bacteria, dirt, and germs), so they can be the perfect place to harbor infection. So, if you absolutely feel the need to touch or rub, make sure your hands are clean first!
Not cleaning your eyelashes
That's right...this one might come as a surprise. Sure, we all wash our faces every day, but unless you wear eye makeup like mascara or eyeliner, how often do you actually clean your eyelashes?
Just like shampooing your hair (or beard), your eyelashes also need some love. In fact, if you suffer from eye irritation, that you may attribute to something else, it could actually be due to an eye condition called blepharitis — inflammation of the eyelids.
A common condition, blepharitis is caused when the oil glands at the root of the eyelashes become clogged due to bacteria or dandruff or even skin mites. Symptoms include watery eyes, itching, swollen eyelids, blurry vision, crusting, and dry eye.
Practicing eyelash care at home a few times a week (right before bedtime) is a great way to maintain eye hygiene. Simply place a warm washcloth on your eyes for 1 minute, to open up the pores. Next, take a drop or two of no-tears baby shampoo and water in the washcloth, lather, and scrub the area where the eyelashes meet the eyelids. This will help to remove bacteria, dirt, and oil.
Cleaning the eyelids and eyelashes is a great way to make sure germs and dirt don't get into your eyes and cause other eye issues.
Not practicing eyelid care
Apart from your eyelashes, your eyelids also need some attention. This delicate skin that covers and shields the eyes have what are called meibomian or tarsal glands at their rim. The glands produce oil (meibum), which prevents the eye's tear film from evaporating.
A healthy tear film is essential for averting dry eye, so it's important to make sure these tiny, but important glands are working properly. As we age, the glands don't pump out as much oil as they used to, which can lead to dry eye.
Applying a warm compress to the eyelids provides warmth to the glands which helps to soften any clogged up oil, improving gland function. Simply wet your washcloth in some warm water, and hold it against your eyelids for 30 seconds. Doing this regularly will help the eyes to maintain a healthy tear film, reduce the chances of blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid), and possibly prevent dry eye in the future.
Sleeping with contact lenses on
Did you know sleeping in your contact lenses can increase your chances of getting a corneal ulcer by 10-15 times?
When you sleep in your contacts you are literally starving your eyes (and the delicate cornea in your eye) of oxygen. That can lead to infection and promote the growth of harmful bacteria. So, no matter how tired you are, take a few minutes to remove your lenses, even if it is for a short afternoon nap.
If in case you do happen to fall asleep in your lenses, make sure to never remove them right after waking up. If your eyes are too dry you can risk pulling away from the top corneal layer with your lens (yikes). Instead, wait for 30 minutes, then lubricate your eyes with artificial tears (available over-the-counter at your local drug store), and only then remove your contacts. Once they're out, rest your eyes by wearing glasses for the rest of the day.
Next time, to avoid this eye care mistake, all you need to do is remove your lenses before bedtime, and clean them by placing them in fresh solution as you sleep, and they'll be good to go when you wake up!
Skipping contact lens care
If you wear contact lenses, you need to wear them with responsibility. By this we mean, if you're not following the proper practices of contact lens care, you could cause temporary or even permanent damage to your eyes.
Here are a few key eye care mistakes to avoid when it comes to wearing lenses:
- Regularly clean and disinfect lenses using fresh solution
- Make sure to always wash your hands prior to handling your contacts
- Don't wash your lenses (or your lens case) with tap water as the microbes in tap water can attach to your lenses, and then to your eye, causing infection
- Don't continue to wear your lenses after the recommended replacement date — this means if you wear 30-day lenses, and you've only worn them for 15 days, you should still throw them out once the month is done
- If you have an eye infection, dry eye or irritability, stick to your glasses until the issue subsides
- Store your lenses in a proper contact lens case (with each lens in separate compartments) to avoid contamination
- Replace your contact lens case every 3 months even though it may look immaculately clean. Certain bacteria can form an invisible biofilm in the case and hide from the disinfecting solution which can spell bad news for your eyes
- Don't ever purchase lenses (such as colored contact lenses) without a prescription, always obtain them after a thorough eye exam
Showering or swimming in your contacts
Even though you may never use tap water to clean your lenses, most people seem to be okay taking a hot shower with their contact lenses on.
When the water gets into your eyes, microbes from the water can latch onto your lenses and possibly cause an infection. Same goes for wearing your contacts while swimming in the pool.
A study linked "ineffective lens maintenance and exposure of the contact lenses to tap or other sources of water," to a condition called Acanthamoeba keratitis, a rare condition where amoebae attack the cornea of the eye causing acute pain and "severe visual loss."
The study concluded that "prevention remains the best treatment and patients who wear contact lenses must be thoroughly educated about the proper use and care of the lenses," and that exposure of the lenses to any source of water should be avoided.
If by any chance you've worn your contact lenses in the shower or the pool make sure to disinfect them using some fresh solution as soon as you get out of the water. Or better still, toss them out and put on a fresh pair.
Using old eye drops and solution
Most of us are guilty of using something past its prime, right? But what about using contact lens solution or eye drops that are past their expiry date?
Trying to extend eye care products after they've expired is actually not a good idea. Eye drops, like any other medication, should be thrown out once they've passed their expiration date unless your doctor gives you the green signal that they're okay to use.
When it comes to contact lens solution, it should ideally be chucked once it's expired as it may not be as effective in cleaning and disinfecting your lenses. These solutions have special cleansers that kill microbes, and if they're past their prime, they might not work properly, possibly increasing the chance of an infection.
Overusing redness relief eye drops
Do you use redness-reducing eye drops? You may have used these one time or another if you suffered from red, itchy eyes. But if you're one of those people who has come to rely on these drops on an everyday basis, you may want to check long-term effects with your eye care provider, or possibly get alternative treatment.
While these drops can provide temporary relief by constricting blood vessels to make your eyes look less red, they also contain chemicals and preservatives that can actually aggravate your problem and make it worse as you keep using them.
So, if your eyes are constantly irritated and red, instead of masking the problem with drops, it's best to head over to your eye care professional so that they can get to the root cause of your problem. If it's something as simple as dry eye, he or she may even just prescribe over-the-counter lubricating artificial tears, but you need to get the issue examined first, instead of relying on a band-aid solution.
Putting eyeliner on your waterline
Some makeup artists insist that applying eyeliner on the inside of your lower eyelashes looks best to make the eyes pop, but doing this can actually be quite risky.
Putting liner that close to your eye means particles of makeup can get inside the eye, possibly leading to an infection. If you're wearing contact lenses this can be especially harmful as the makeup particles can block oxygen to your eye.
Also, liquid liners can be more dangerous as the tip sits in a tube that can promote the growth of bacteria. Using a pencil liner is better as it needs to be sharpened ever so often to reveal a fresh, clean tip.
No matter what your preference, it's important to keep in mind that eyeliner should always be applied on top of the eyelid, and never below it or on the waterline (where the skin touches the cornea of your eye).
Falling asleep with eye makeup on
You may think falling asleep with your makeup on is not that big of a deal, but it is when it comes to eye makeup.
Makeup can clog the delicate glands at the root of your eyelids and can irritate the eyes causing inflammation in the form of pimples and painful red bumps called styes, or worse, lead to an infection.
If you're wearing false eyelashes, you need to take extra care and make sure to get them off as the glue can enter the eye and irritate the cornea, leading to serious inflammation.
So, before you hit the sack, it's important to take the time to remove your eye makeup completely. If you still find that your eyes get red or irritated with eye makeup, make sure you're not using any expired products, try changing your brand, and be sure to visit an eye doctor immediately if symptoms get worse.
Failing to blink
Do you often complain of dry eye? Research suggests that dry eye is one of the most common eye problems as you age. In a study of men aged 50-54 years old, the occurrence of dry eye increased by 3.9% and further increased to 7.7% in men over the age of 80.
Although dry eye can be caused by a variety of different factors such as age, certain medications, autoimmune disorders, a dry or polluted environment, and seasonal allergies — one of the most common reasons for dry eye is not blinking as often, mainly due to prolonged hours of screen time or other activities that require added concentration.
When you stare at a screen for long periods of time, your blink rate reduces (most of the time you won't even notice this), causing your eyes to dry out and get fatigued.
A 2015 study showed that blink rate is directly influenced by the visual information being processed. So, the focused nature of processing everything on a screen, such as writing and comprehending a spreadsheet, to absorbing new information and meticulous programming, are all contributory factors leading to insufficient blinking — and dry eye.
For prolonged screen users (8-10 hours a day), it's important to remember to consciously blink more often. If your eyes are very dry and irritated you can also use over-the-counter artificial tears (preservative-free), that will help to lubricate your eyes and provide relief.
Staring at digital devices for long hours
If you stare at anything for a long time you're bound to strain your eyes. But most of us do this each and every day, every time we stare at a screen for hours at a time.
A good analogy is to compare digital eye strain to running laps non-stop for the entire day — your legs would get pretty tired, right? The same goes for your eyes, which literally work round the clock from early morning to late hours into the night.
Digital devices emit what is called blue light which can be damaging to the eyes, and also suppress the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), making it harder to fall asleep and rest your eyes. So, whether you're working on your computer at work, your laptop at home, on your phone or watching TV, you're constantly exposed to blue light.
Over time, this could mean eye strain and fatigue, and even head and neck pain. A great way to take a break and reduce eye strain is to follow the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes of screen time, stare and focus at an object or look into the distance at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.
Also, make sure to blink often to keep your eyes lubricated!
Wearing sunglasses only when the sun is out
If you wear your shades only in sunny weather, or never at all, you're leaving your eyes unprotected from the harsh UV rays of the sun. Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight can be incredibly damaging to your eyes, and most people don't realize it, as unlike a "sunburn" the symptoms are not immediate.
From the two types of UV rays that enter the earth's atmosphere, UV-A rays can damage the macula in your retina, and UV-B rays can cause cataracts and corneal sunburns.
UV radiation can also lead to macular degeneration, and pterygium, an abnormal growth on the white of the eye that can block vision.
There's a misconception that you need to wear sunglasses only when the sun is out. UV-rays are present all the time, in any weather. In fact, in the winter months, UV radiation may even be stronger as the sun's rays reflect off of the white snow, affecting your eyes even more.
When shopping for sunglasses, make sure to buy ones that block out at least 99% of both types of UV rays (UV-A and UV-B), and keep them on hand all year round.
Wearing regular shades on high-altitudes
If you're hiking on high altitudes, your everyday UV-blocking sunglasses are just not good enough. As you go higher up, UV-radiation becomes much stronger and requires extra protection.
Failing to use proper protective eyewear in high-altitudes can permanently damage your eyes. Some of the most common eye conditions among mountaineers are corneal frostbite, erythropsia (distorts color vision with objects taking on a reddish hue), and photokeratitis, also called snow blindness which causes intense eye pain and tearing.
If you love high-mountain sports or are going to be trekking on glaciers, there's an enormous amount of reflection, so you should buy special protective eyewear such as glacier glasses, which can be bought from most outdoor sports stores or on the web.
Children don't need sunglasses
A report found that while "73% of adults wear sunglasses, only 58% of them make their children wear shades."
Young or old, your eyes need protection from the harsh UV rays of the sun. In fact, kids under the age of 10 are at a much higher risk as the skin around their eyes and the eyelids is a lot more delicate. The lens of the eye is also clearer at this age and absorbs more sunlight, which can lead to more UV-induced damage.
Since UV radiation damage accrues over time, increasing the risk for cataracts and AMD, the sooner you start with UV eye protection the better. Taking eye care precautions as early as when your child is 6 months old will lower the risk of your child developing degenerative eye problems in the future.
When buying sunglasses for your kids, look for standard UV 400 lenses. Steer clear from fashion sunglasses with colored lenses as they don't provide the protection needed. Also, make sure to make your children wear a hat or cap when out in the sun.
You don't wear eye protection
Do you use eye protection when doing woodworking, using cleaning chemicals or playing ice hockey?
Experts believe that using the right eye protection can prevent 90% of accidental eye injuries. So, if you play certain sports like hockey or go skiing, make sure to wear protective eyewear that meets the sport's safety requirements.
In fact, anytime you think there's a possibility that something may hit or get into your eyes at a high speed, you should wear eye protection.
Even regular activities around the house such as repair work, using strong chemicals to clean, and even gardening or mowing the lawn, may require goggles or safety glasses to protect from flying debris and strong fumes.
Thinking you don't need an eye exam
Most people think they should only visit an eye doctor if they notice a difference in their vision. Sure, if you're having trouble seeing clearly you definitely need to get an eye check-up — but that's not the only reason to get an eye exam.
Eyes don't have pain receptors so if you have a ruptured blood vessel or something more serious like a tumor, there's no way of catching it unless you notice changes in your vision. Also, many eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma have no preliminary symptoms, so without early detection through an eye exam, long-term damage can often be irreparable.
But eye exams do more than just testing for visual acuity or detecting an eye condition — your eyes can also reveal other conditions related to your overall health. For example, they could indicate if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol or even an autoimmune condition.
Eye care professionals generally recommend that everyone over the age of 40 have a dilated eye exam, at least every two years. If you have a certain type of eye disease in your family (such as AMD or glaucoma), then an annual eye exam would be advisable.
A dilated eye exam simply means that special drops will be put into your eyes to dilate (widen) the pupils. This helps your ophthalmologist check for eye conditions or any other issues.
It's important to note that most people make the mistake of thinking that getting their eyes screened when they got new glasses or lenses is the same as a comprehensive eye exam — it's not. Only a dilated eye exam can detect the early signs of disease, so the more regular you are with getting an eye exam, the earlier an issue can be detected and treated.
You don't know what runs in your family
If you've ever gone for a health check-up you might remember the doctor asking if you have a "family history" of certain conditions.
This is important to ascertain if you're at a higher risk for certain diseases. When it comes to vision health, family history plays a big role as certain eye diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts are all eye conditions that could be linked to your genes and can run in families.
When you visit the ophthalmologist it's important to let him/her know if anyone in your immediate family on both the paternal or maternal side has an eye condition, this way they can monitor you and begin treatment immediately if a problem arises.
You think vision loss is normal as you age
Yes, just like any other part of your body, your eyes will not be the same as you head into your golden years. But thinking that vision loss is a "normal" part of aging is just a misconception that many people have, and is just not true.
If you catch eye conditions like macular degeneration and glaucoma early you have a good chance of making health and lifestyle changes and taking eye supplements to slow down the progress of those conditions.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to aging is that your vision changes over time. It's important to make a note of any vision changes you experience as well as keeping your eye prescription up to date.
Also, if you do have reading glasses make sure you wear them so you don't have to squint while reading the fine print, adding unnecessary strain to your eyes.
There's no doubt that you know how bad cigarette smoke can be for you. However, were you aware of the damage it can do to your eyes?
Smoking can increase your chances of getting cataracts, damage your optic nerve and even increase the chance of an earlier onset of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), than people who don't smoke.
Studies show that people who smoke "double their chance of forming cataracts," and "have a three-fold increase in the risk of developing AMD compared with people who have never smoked." They also have double the chance of developing dry eye.
The good news is that since smoking is something you can control, quitting smoking can greatly reduce your risk of developing degenerative eye disorders.
You don't take eye supplements
Your diet is another key factor that affects the health of your entire body, including your eyes. If you're deficient in certain key vitamins and minerals it could affect the health of your eyes.
You've probably heard that carrots are good for eye health. Although there's truth to that, there are actually quite a few more nutrients you need, to proactively support vision health.
Carrots contain a plant pigment called beta-carotene which is converted to Vitamin A in the body. This essential vitamin protects the cornea and helps you to see in low-light conditions. In fact, studies show that people deficient in Vitamin A are more susceptible to night blindness.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that certain essential nutrients need to be present in your diet on a daily basis to support your vision and to prevent degenerative eye conditions in the long-term.
Although you can get these nutrients from food, it is far easier to get your daily therapeutic dose by taking high-quality eye supplements.
The most important of these nutrients include lutein and zeaxanthin which may reduce the risk of eye conditions such as AMD, cataracts and eye fatigue. Both these incredible antioxidants can be found in spinach, broccoli, avocados, eggs and even in eye supplements such as pumpkin seed oil.
Vitamin C is another important supplement that can slow down the progression of AMD. Citrus fruits are an excellent source of vitamin C. But you'll be surprised to know that a supplement like black currant seed oil contains 4 times the vitamin C as oranges!
Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, flaxseeds and chia seeds are also important for retinal health, along with zinc found in red meat, beans, and chicken, which helps the body generate melanin, the eyes' protective pigment.
Another essential antioxidant is astaxanthin, found in salmon, lobster, and Haematococcus Pluvialis microalgae, which is hailed as a "supernutrient," protecting eyes from AMD, cataract and other eye conditions that can lead to loss of vision.
Eating a healthy diet is a must, but there's only so much food you can eat every day to reap the nutritional benefits. One of the biggest eye care mistakes people make is to wait until they get an eye disorder to start taking eye supplements.
The key is to start taking vision supplements now so you can prevent or prolong the onset of degenerative eye conditions and also improve your vision now.
- Preventative eye care done now can help avert degenerative eye conditions in the future
- It's important to learn and rectify any eye care mistakes you might be making to protect your vision
- Ignoring long-term eye symptoms and not paying heed to eye injuries may lead to permanent eye damage
- Make sure to consciously blink and practice the 20-20-20 rule to take a break from screen time
- Practice eyelid and eyelash care, use eyeliner properly and never sleep in eye makeup
- Skipping contact lens care or sleeping or swimming in your lenses may cause severe corneal damage
- Getting an eye exam is important to test visual acuity but also to check for any eye conditions you may have
- Make sure to wear sunglasses all year round, and eye protection during sports and certain household activities
- Quit smoking and take eye supplements to reduce your risk of developing degenerative eye disorders