With all the natural beauty around us — from the ridges of Badger Mountain to the banks of the Yakima River — it’s important to maintain good eye health to enjoy it.
In Benton and Franklin counties, fewer than 1 percent of children ages 5 to 17 report vision difficulties, but that number increases to 6.8 percent in people older than age 65. While genetics play a role in eye disease, diet, nutrition and lifestyle choices also are important, as is having an annual eye exam to detect early signs of chronic disease.
The leading cause of new cases of blindness in the U.S. is diabetes, and the number of Americans with diabetes increased 13 percent from 2010-12. Of those with diabetes who are older than 40 years old, 28.5 percent have diabetic retinopathy, which can cause blindness.
If you have Type 1 diabetes, follow the advice of health professionals to keep your blood sugar under control and your eyes healthy. If you have Type 2 diabetes, try exercising, eating less saturated and total fat, and eating more fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.
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Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable and reversible, but changing eating habits can be extremely difficult. Develop a support network and a plan. Focus meals around foods you love that are also healthy. Buy foods for your family that are healthy for you. Everyone will benefit.
Other eye diseases also are partially dependent upon diet. The risk of glaucoma, which is damage to the optic nerve, can be reduced by about 50 percent by eating dark leafy greens, like kale and collards. Try the recipe above.
Dark leafy greens also may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, which is deterioration of the retina, and cataracts, where protein build-up clouds the lens. Glaucoma risk may be reduced by eating blue or purple pigments in foods such as purple cabbage and blueberries.
To detect and monitor these diseases, visit your eye doctor. In fact, since the eye is the only area where doctors can get an unobstructed view of human blood vessels, problems in the eye may indicate a risk of heart disease and stroke as well as blindness.
You can further protect your eyes by avoiding smoking, air pollution and excess alcohol intake, wearing sunglasses, getting a good night’s sleep, avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and exercising.
Use protective eyewear whenever there is a possibility of a flying object getting in your eyes, like fishing and working in your home and yard, as well as when playing baseball, racquet sports and doing martial arts and boxing.
If you do have vision loss, helpful resources are available at the Edith Bishel Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Kennewick.