What would you do if you woke up one day and couldn’t see? How would that impact your life? What would you miss most? What would you give to get your vision back?

Our ability to see is often taken for granted. It has been said, eyes are the window into our soul. The reverse is also true; our eyes are the window to the outside world. With our eyes, we can capture the big moments and milestones in our lives such as graduations, weddings, births, etc.; they also allow us to enjoy the little things such as, an entertainment show, different paintings at an art museum, or a picturesque sunset on a warm summer evening. Our eyes allow us to participate and experience the world we live in.

When it comes to our eyes, there are a several things you can do to protect your vision and prolong the health of your eyes.

1 Get a comprehensive eye exam. Often times, many of us will go years without getting our eyes checked. Regular eye exams are important because they can identify signs of eye disease at an early stage. This is especially important if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or have a family history of eye disease. How often you should get an eye exam will depend on your age and genetics so check with your regular doctor. An eye exam may include, dilating the pupils, eye pressure and optic nerve test, and, vision test to determine if you are near-sighted or far-sighted.

2 Wear protective eyewear. It is important to wear sunglasses to protect against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays (ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B) when we outside or driving. Exposure to too many ultraviolet rays increases the risk of developing cataracts which causes blurry vision. When picking out sunglasses, choose a pair that will block 99 percent to 100 percent of both ultraviolet A and B for maximum protection. It is also important to wear protective eyewear when you are working with hazardous materials or playing particular sports (e.g. ice hockey, racquetball, etc.) to prevent debris or objects from entering our eyes.

3 Take a break from the screen. We could all use a break from our screens (computer, television, phones, tablets, etc.). Not only is it good for our bodies to take a break from our screens; it is also good for our eyes. Staring at a screen for too long will increases the chances of developing tired eyes, dry eyes, neck pain, shoulder pain, headaches, and, even blurred vision. Give your eyes a break every 20 minutes and look at an object on the other side of the room. Take long deep blinks and blink often! Closing your eyes will not only force your eyes to rest, it will give your body a chance to produce natural tears that will coat the eyes and relieve the symptoms of dry eyes.

4 Don’t smoke. Not only is smoking a risk factor for many chronic illnesses, it can also cause damage to the eyes. Smokers are more like to develop cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and, optic nerve damage, which can all lead to blindness. Kicking the habit can be challenging, so talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs in your community.

5 Eat well. According to Harvard Medical School, what we eat makes a difference in our overall health. There are key nutrients we should incorporate in our diet for the health of our eyes. There is some evidence that show vitamins (A, C, E, and Zinc) and other nutrients such as lutein and omega-3 fatty acid play a role in preventing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Consider filling your plate with the following:

• Leafy vegetables such as: broccoli, collard greens, kale, spinach and squash

• Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables: apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, mangos, red peppers, and sweet potatoes

• Nuts and fish: Almonds, eggs, peanut butter, salmon, tuna, and walnuts

Don’t take your eyes for granted. Take care of them so you can continue enjoying the big and small moments in life with your love ones.

If you have a comment, concern, or, would like to learn more about eye health, you can contact the Independence Health Department at 816-325-7185 or visit https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/healthyvisionmonth/index.htm and https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/top-foods-to-help-protect-your-vision .

-- Andrew Warlen, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.