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5 Biggest Vision Questions, Answered

Whether carrots really help, the best way to relieve dry eyes and more


(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)

Once you hit your 40s, it seems like vision takes a nosedive. We’ve all heard that carrots can boost eye health and exercises can strengthen them, but are these things really true? We went to the experts to get your most common vision questions answered:

1. Why do my eyes get dryer with age, and what can I do about it?

“As we get older all of our glands don’t work as efficiently, which can affect the mucous membranes. It affects some people more than others. Menopausal women can definitely experience this as all of their mucous membranes become drier due to hormonal changes,” says Laurie Steelsmith, a Honolulu, Hawaii-based naturopath and author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health. Other environmental factors come into play as well: living in a cold climate, dehumidifiers and long hours staring at a computer, tablet or smartphone.

(MORE: Is the Computer Killing Your Eyes?)

What to do: Topical eyedrops can help. Be sure to use eyedrops that are free of thimerosol and other preservatives, says Steelsmith. Also, make sure you are drinking enough fluids to stay hydrated. If dry eyes are a chronic thing for you, talk to your eye doctor. Long-term dry eyes can cause inflammation and blurred vision. He or she can provide prescription-strength drops such as Restasis, which helps the eyes create tears.

2. Does what I eat really have an effect on my vision?

Yes, says Dr. Emily Chew, deputy director, Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications, National Eye Institute (NEI). In 2013, the NEI completed its first Age-Related Eye Disease Study, where scientists found that people at high risk of developing advanced stages of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss, lowered their risk by about 25 percent when treated with a high-dose combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene and zinc.

(MORE: Fiftysomething Diet: What to Eat to Protect Your Vision)

“However, we found that the beta carotene, found in carrots, increased the risk of lung cancer in smokers and former smokers. It did not have that effect on non-smokers. In the second study, we swapped the beta carotene with the lutein and zeaxanthin, which we discovered had a stronger beneficial effect for everyone, smokers and non-smokers alike,” says Chew.

What to do: Bring nutrient-rich food into your diet. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens and spinach, and in eggs. In addition, the American Optometric Association says that lutein and zeaxanthin may play a role in cataract prevention.

3. Can smoking affect my vision?

Absolutely, says Chew. “It has been consistent in every study that smoking doubles your risk of developing AMD,” she says. A Duke University Medical Center study discovered that cigarette smoke and its component tar trigger the formation of deposits and thickening in the retina that cause AMD. In experiments with mice, they also discovered heavy exposure to secondhand smoke produces similar changes.

What to do: Two words: Stop smoking.

4. Can eye exercises really improve my vision?

Sorry, but don’t believe the extravagant claims you hear. “No eye exercise will correct vision loss,” says Glenda Secor, spokesperson for the American Academy of Optometry. For years, the treatment of choice for convergence insufficiency (getting your eyes to work together at a near distance) has been pencil push-ups: holding a pencil in front of your face and focusing on the eraser as you bring it to and from your face. However, a study funded by the NEI found that pencil push-ups were no more effective than placebo therapy.

What to do: Accept that your eyes are aging and move on.

(MORE: Regular Eye Exams Can Pinpoint Trouble Early)

5. Does giving in and wearing reading glasses actually make your eyesight worse?

Total myth, says Secor. “Glasses only focus light and don’t therapeutically change your vision. You adapt to seeing better and then realize how blurry it is uncorrected,” she notes. In addition, if you are starting to get presbyopia, a loss of the ability to focus on near objects that starts around age 40, it will progress with or without corrective lenses.

What to do: If readers help you see better, get them!

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