It was in the Pink Zone, about 20 minutes after Nurse Vanda’s administration, when the drops began to take hold.
I lost focus, the blur creeping outward from the centre of my vision. At the edges, things remained sharper; the pink of the flowers in the paintings. All around me, on pink chairs, sat people in dark glasses.
It was just another day in the eye clinic.
At least this time I had known what to expect. It was a repeat visit and the consultant assured me my eyes are fine – or at least, as fine as they were. I knew the blurring would last a few unsettling hours, and then my engorged pupils would return, gradually, to normal size.
But even forewarned, it was no easier than the first time. My vision, so important to my everyday life, wasn’t functioning.
I’m a writer, but also a reader. It’s almost compulsive; I’m the bloke that stands on the tube platform reading the long copy ads. The blurb on a cereal packet or shampoo bottle. The slogan on a T-shirt. If there are words there, I want to know what they say.
Yet now, thanks to Nurse Vanda (her real name – I read the badge), I had an insight into what it would be like not to be able to read. I hated it.
And as more of us have spent more time than ever in the past year staring into our screens for work, or on endless Zoom calls, it’s worth investing a little bit of time into finding out how we can best protect our eyesight for the future.
How to protect your eyesight
As it turns out, everyone’s eyes will eventually begin to get weaker whether they’re working online on their screens or not. The demographics of the eye clinic confirm it; the majority of patients are older, their eyes painfully dry, clouded with cataracts or red with macular degeneration.
But while some degradation of vision seems to be a common part of the ageing process, a bit of post-clinic Googling reveals there is plenty we can do to protect our vision.
One of the most well-known steps is to wear sunglasses more often. Protection against UV rays can help slow the development of cataracts, while the protection your shades offer against the sun’s blue light may help reduce the risk – or rate – of macular degeneration.
Blue light is also emitted by LED screens, though scientists currently seem unconvinced that increased hours staring at your phone or computer lead to dangerous exposure to it.
What is clear is that hours looking at a screen cause eyes to become dry and lead to eye strain. One factor in this is apparently a reduced blink rate – turns out few of us have had cause to flutter our lashes at a laptop.
Take screen breaks
Another issue is that it means we change our focus less frequently, meaning the eyes tire; this is the basis for the recommendation of screen breaks and shifting the gaze regularly, into the distance. A desk by a window helps, not only providing natural light but also the opportunity to look further afield.
Read print outs where possible
On a practical level, it’s also an additional reason to proofread printed pages, rather than on screen whenever possible.
Then there’s the notion of eye exercise. The eye has muscles too, and like other parts of the body we can strengthen them.
We may not all feel the need to follow former England cricketers, who used to train to face fast bowlers by picking out a single letter on the label of a record spinning at 45rpm, but there are simple exercises you can do. Some yoga practitioners recommend eye rolling or focus shifting; while the medical evidence to support this is sketchy, the logic is compelling. And even if they don’t serve to protect, I’ve found them pleasantly soothing.
It was also a surprise to me to discover that our diet can affect our eyes. The Macular Society encourages eating foods containing lutein – mostly yellow and green veg – and it also turns out that the twin demons of drink and nicotine are also bad for our vision (not just for turning it double!).
Get your vision tested regularly
Finally, one of the common tips is to make sure you have regular eye tests. With 68% of UK residents now wearing glasses or lenses, that’s a majority of us who should be seeing the optician at least every couple of years. From personal experience, it’s easily deferred – but after that extended gap, it was off to the eye clinic.
Of course, none of these small changes guarantee 20:20 vision for life, but with something so precious, it’s got to be worth trying a bit harder to look after it.