How well you can see isn’t really something you get to choose. Thanks to the genetic lottery, we all end up with either perfect 20/20 vision, horrible eyesight that is just begging for Lasik, or something in between.
While changes in eyesight are often out of our control, and is bound to deteriorate as we age, there are some things we can do. Or, rather, not do. “Without realizing it, plenty of seemingly harmless habits could be negatively affecting your vision,” Weslie Hamada, O.D., an optometrist and Johnson & Johnson R&D expert, tells SELF. Whether it’s swimming in your contacts or lighting up for a smoke, there are quite a few everyday activities that could leave you with dry, itchy eyes, infections, or worse. The problem (beyond discomfort) is that neglecting your eye health can impact your eyesight in the long term.
Here are the things you should stop doing ASAP to help keep your peepers as healthy as possible.
- Forgetting to wear sunglasses
Extensive UV exposure can damage the retina and ultimately put you at risk for a few major eye conditions like cataracts or abnormal growths. “It’s so important to wear UV-blocking sunglasses while outside to avoid damage,” Hamada says. So, dig those sunnies out of your bag every time you head outside—it’s even more important than you realize. If you wear contacts, choosing a brand with UV protection can add an extra layer of defense—all types of Acuvue (a J&J brand) contacts have UV shields built into them.
- Wearing old contact lenses
While it might seem harmless to wear those one-day contact lenses on day two, you’re increasing your chances of an infection. “People tend to keep their contact lenses in their eyes much longer than the contacts are intended, especially one-a-days,” says Hamada. “Sleeping in your contacts, sharing contacts with others, or not switching your contact case every few weeks are all major offenses when it comes to keeping your eyes healthy and avoiding vision-blurring infections.”
- Rubbing your eyes
It may give you a moment of relief, but you’re also spreading dirt and bacteria into your eyes when you rub them. “You transfer germs into your eyes this way, classically bacteria that causes pink eye,” Jessica Ciralsky, M.D., a cornea specialist at Weill Cornell Medicine, tells SELF. “Eye rubbing has been linked to permanent corneal damage—like disorders known as keratoconus in which the cornea thins and begins to bulge outward—and it can also break the fragile vessels around the eye.” It’s also important to note that if you feel something in your eye, trying to rub it away can possibly dig the debris in deeper. Instead, try to blink rapidly so that your tears wash it away. If that doesn’t work, put in a few eye drops to flush out the eye.
- Wearing contacts in the pool or shower
“Wearing your contacts in any form of water—the ocean, a pool or even the shower—can allow bacteria, or in severe cases, even something called an acanthamoeba, into the eye,” warns Hamada. This microorganism lives in fresh water and soil, and though it’s rare, can cause a serious infection—even permanent damage or blindness—if it gets in your eye. “Something like this not only causes infections, but can also cause serious damage to your vision as well.”
- Using expired eye makeup
While it might physically pain you to throw out your favorite mascara when only half the tube is used, it’s a necessary evil if it’s past its prime. Using expired eye makeup can irritate your contacts or cause a nasty eye infection. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, eye makeup should be thrown away after three months. Some experts say six to nine is OK for mascara, and longer for eye shadows, but it’s better to err on the safe side. A good rule of thumb is that when it gets clumpy, it’s time to throw it out. Don’t add water—it’ll just give bacteria an even cozier place to set up shop.
“In ophthalmology, [smoking] is associated with a higher risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration which, ultimately affects your vision,” Ciralzky says. The National Eye Institute explains age-related macular degeneration as damage to a small spot on your retina, which is used for sharp, central vision. When this part of the retina begins to deteriorate, so does your vision. Unfortunately, this is the leading cause of vision loss among people over 50, and smoking actually doubles your risk of developing the condition.
- Staring at a smartphone all day
There’s a reason your eyes feel physically tired after staring at your computer (or smartphone) all day. When you’re straining to read the small text on those tiny screens and flooding them with blue light, your blink rate actually decreases. “When your blink rate starts to decrease, so does the rate of tear production,” Hamada explains. “Without lubrication, eyes begin to feel dry and tired, which causes blurry vision.” The feeling of fatigued eyesight and unclear vision could last for at least a few hours and give you a headache. There’s also growing evidence that more screen time might lead to irreversible deterioration of the retina, and may even be rising the rates of nearsightedness worldwide.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends following the “20-20-20” rule to relieve eye strain if you’re in front of a computer most of the day. For every 20 minutes of screen time, shift your eyes to look at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This will help readjust your eyes and give them some time to relax.
- Forgoing safety goggles
Whether you’re mowing the lawn or working on your latest home improvement project, make sure you actually wear those goofy looking goggles. You may feel silly, but according to Ciralzky, many eye injuries occur at home doing everyday chores like cleaning the house with harsh chemicals or using a nail gun for your Pinterest-inspired DIY project. This might seem like an unnecessary precaution, but the CDC reports that 2,000 U.S. workers experience a job-related eye injury every day. Just imagine the type of damage you could do at home when you’re taking on a task you’re not trained to do.
- Skipping your annual eye exam
“Forgoing your annual eye doctor visit is an obvious, yet major issue when it comes ensuring you’re keeping your eyes healthy,” says Hamada. Even if you feel like your vision is perfect, there’s still a chance that you may be squinting and straining your eyes without realizing it. Even more concerning, Hamada reports that many patients don’t seek medical help for their eyes until it’s too late and they’ve already experienced vision loss. Meanwhile, early detection of many eye diseases can make a huge difference in preserving your vision.
- Relying on redness drops
After a late night out, redness-reducing eye drops can mean the difference between looking like a red-eyed monster and appearing like an actual human being. But if you’re overusing that tiny miracle worker, you could actually be causing damage. “Overusing drops that “take the red out” can actually cause the opposite effect and lead to more redness,” explains Ciralsky. “These drops work by constricting the vessels, but if you overuse the drops, they can lead to a rebound redness.” Stick to artificial tears—and get more shut-eye to avoid the bloodshot look in the first place.