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  • Writer's pictureAtanas Bogoev M.D. and Maria Cholakova

What Can Damage Your Eyesight and Affect Your Eye Health?

Eyesight is a sense that many people take for granted until they start experiencing vision loss. While there are ways to correct imperfect vision (wearing glasses or contacts, getting corrective surgery), there are several factors that might cause discomfort or damage to the eyes. Sometimes even permanently.

Today we will talk about what damages eyesight and what you can do to protect yourself.

What Can Cause Damage to Your Eyes?

Some of the most common causes of eye damage and vision loss include:

1. Sunlight and UV Rays


Overexposure to sunlight's UV rays causes damage to the eyes with short-term and long-term effects. In the short-term, exposure to bright sunlight can cause a temporary "sunburn" on the cornea (photokeratitis). This can cause eye pain, redness, and sensitivity to light.

In the long term, exposure to UV rays may lead to cataracts (clouding of the lens), macular degeneration (damage to the retina), and even eye cancer. Sunlight may also exacerbate certain eye conditions. For example, dry eye and conjunctivitis (pink eye).

To avoid any detrimental eye damage from the sun, you need to protect yourself. How? Wear UV-protective sunglasses when spending time outdoors. Even on cloudy days! You will get maximum protection from eyewear with a UV400 label.

2. Aging

old age

When it comes to what damages vision, we can't ignore the elephant in the room. Aging is one of the leading natural causes of gradual vision loss in adults.

As we age, our eyesight deteriorates. It's almost inevitable. That's mainly due to eye conditions from old age like macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma. And although aging is irreversible, corrective vision surgery could slow down the progression of these diseases.

3. Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption has harmful effects on the body and the eyes. In the short-term, alcohol is known to cause eye muscle weakness, blurry or double vision, and difficulty with depth perception. These effects are temporary and tend to go away once the alcohol has left the system.

However, excessive long-term drinking can lead to more serious eye problems. The most common one is alcoholic optic neuropathy. Which is damage to the optic nerve that can result in vision loss. Alcohol consumption can also lead to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in people over 50.

Moreover, drinking alcohol leads to dehydration, which can cause or worsen dry eyes. It can also impair the body's ability to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. Reduce the risk of eye problems from alcohol consumption by drinking alcohol in moderation or avoiding it altogether.

If you are experiencing personal challenges related to alcohol consumption, we strongly encourage you to seek professional assistance and support.

4. Smoking


Smoking has detrimental effects on overall health and is a risk factor for several eye conditions. Smoke irritates the eyes, leading to a burning and stinging sensation. But that's only the surface level. Smoking significantly increases the risk of dry eye syndrome, cataracts, optical nerve damage, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Another way smoking causes damage to your eyes is by worsening the effects of diabetes on the eyes (diabetic retinopathy). What's more, chemicals in tobacco products could potentially lead to the development of cataracts at a younger age.

5. Prolonged Screen Time

screen time

With the widespread use of computers, smartphones, TVs, and tablets, people spend hours staring at digital screens. And while screens and blue light do NOT directly damage your eyesight long-term, excessive screen time may lead to dry eye and eye strain. Which consecutively results in a temporary decrease in vision clarity.

There are a few things you can do to protect your eyes. From using dark mode with your digital devices and mobile apps to taking regular breaks (20-20-20 rule) and limiting your screen time at home. If possible, maintain a proper distance from the screen, reduce its glare, and blink more regularly. If eye fatigue or eye strain appears, use moisturizing eye drops.

6. Overuse of the Wrong Type of Eye Drops

eye drops

The type of eye drops that reduce redness in the eyes are not beneficial for vision and are NOT suitable for regular use. They restrict blood flow in the eyes and could cause eye damage over time. Aside from that, with prolonged use, the eye's blood vessels are becoming reliant on the medication to maintain their normal size, leading to dependency.

Other types of eye drops with preservatives contain benzalkonium chloride, which is a known eye irritant. Preservatives prevent contamination in multi-dose bottles but can cause dryness, burning, and stinging with frequent use.

Artificial tears are a safer alternative if you experience eye redness and irritation. You can use them 2-4 times a day to soothe your eyes and restore moisture. They are also great for dry eyes and to flush out particles, such as dirt or pollen in the eye.

7. Neglecting Eye Protection (Safety Glasses/Goggles)

eye safety equipment

On the topic of what damages vision, we need to mention the importance of eye safety gear. Because physical damage to the eyes during work, home chores, or sports in many situations could be prevented.

When working in environments with chemicals, dust, or the risk of flying debris, you need to wear safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes. That includes wearing them while landscaping, cleaning the pool, or whenever handling chemicals at home.

Safety gear is crucial during sports, too.

Especially sports like American football, hockey, ice hockey, and baseball, where you could have heavy balls flying toward you. Moreover, wearing a helmet with a shield front when cycling, skateboarding, or riding a motorcycle could prevent debris and insects from getting into your eyes which could lead to accidents.

Let's not forget, you should wear goggles when swimming, a mask when diving or snorkeling, and ski glasses when practicing winter sports.

8. Medication Side Effects


Some medications, such as corticosteroids or antibiotics, could have side effects impacting eye health. Long-term use of these medications may increase the risk of developing conditions like cataracts or glaucoma. Do not hesitate to discuss any concerns about prescription drug side effects with your healthcare provider.

9. Dry Eye Syndrome

dry eye irritation

Another factor that indirectly lead to damage to your eyes is dry eye syndrome. It occurs when your eyes are unable to produce enough tears to maintain adequate lubrication. The condition causes extreme discomfort, a gritty sensation, redness, and sometimes even blurry vision.

To alleviate the symptoms and maintain eye moisture, people resort to using lubricating eye drops or artificial tears. While over-the-counter eye drop products are easily accessible, as we mentioned above, stay cautious about the ingredients they contain. (Refer to point 6)

10. Diabetes


Poor diabetes management often causes damage to the blood vessels in the retina, leading to vision loss. The eye condition responsible for this severe eye damage is diabetic retinopathy. Since it is usually painless, it may go unnoticed. Especially if you are skipping the regular diabetic eye exams.

Treatment options may include laser therapy or injections, while advanced cases may require surgery. Prioritizing eye health by going for annual eye exams, as well as proper diabetes management, are key to preventing complications in diabetic patients.

11. Mishandling Contact Lenses

contact lenses

This may shock you, but contact lenses could lead to serious damage to your eyes if not taken care of or not stored properly. Leaving contacts in overnight (or for too long during the day) and not cleaning them regularly (and correctly), can lead to nasty eye infections that affect the visual acuity.

The best way to avoid these problems is to follow the manufacturer's and your eye doctor's instructions for contact lens storage and handling.

12. High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure

High blood pressure poses a significant risk to eye health by damaging the eyes' blood vessels. When blood pressure remains excessive, it exhibits detrimental effects on the delicate blood vessels in the retina.

In turn, this may contribute to vision loss or even blindness.

Continual blood pressure monitoring, lifestyle modifications, and appropriate medical care are vital in preventing and minimizing the risk of hypertensive retinopathy. Timely intervention and treatment may preserve vision and mitigate potential complications.

13. Eye Infections

eye infection

Eye infections, such as conjunctivitis (pink eye), keratitis, or uveitis, often cause inflammation and (temporary or permanent) damage to the eye tissues. These infections result from bacteria, viruses, or fungi. In many cases, they may require prompt medical attention to prevent any further eye damage.

14. Genetics

genetics dna

Some eye conditions, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, can have a genetic component. Meaning they often pass down from family members. Knowing your family's eye health history and discussing it with your eye doctor can help identify potential risks and take appropriate preventive measures.

15. Eye Injuries

eye injury

Accidents or trauma to the eyes, ranging from corneal abrasions to eye fractures or penetrating injuries, can potentially cause irreversible or severe eye damage. In some cases, that serious damage might lead to vision loss. For that reason, it is crucial for adults to protect their eyes when engaging in high-risk activities or working in hazardous environments to prevent eye injuries.

Education on eye safety is necessary for children to safeguard them from potential injuries during playtime and sports. The eyes, being delicate and vulnerable, are prone to various risks like flying objects, collisions, and accidental pokes. By imparting knowledge about the significance of protective eyewear, safe play practices, and staying attentive, children can develop a strong sense of responsibility toward their visual well-being and reduce the likelihood of eye injuries.

16. Hormonal Changes

pregnancy eye health

Hormonal changes during pregnancy or menopause can sometimes affect the eyes and vision.

During pregnancy, the body experiences a surge in estrogen and progesterone, which may lead to ocular changes. One common issue in pregnant women and new mothers is dry eyes. That's when the eyes may not produce enough tears to maintain proper lubrication, leading to discomfort, irritation, and blurry vision. Aside from that, some pregnant women may experience changes in their prescription myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism due to fluid retention and alterations in the curvature of the cornea.

Similarly, during menopause, the decline in estrogen levels can impact the eye's tear production and quality. Therefore increasing the likelihood of developing dry eye syndrome. The condition can cause persistent dryness, a gritty or foreign body sensation in the eyes, redness, and sensitivity to light. Fluctuations in hormone levels may also contribute to other eye problems, such as changes in vision or an increased risk of eye diseases like glaucoma.

Individuals experiencing hormonal changes, whether due to pregnancy or menopause must seek professional advice if they notice any concerning symptoms.

17. Poor Sleep Quality

poor sleep and eye health

Chronic sleep deprivation and insomnia have been linked to a range of health issues. Including weakened immune systems, higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, weight gain, and cognitive decline. A poor sleep schedule is not likely to damage your eyes permanently. However, it could contribute to devastating long-term discomforts like dry eye syndrome, blurry vision, eye fatigue, eye strain, itchiness, scratchy sensations, and redness.

Side note: Poor sleep quality can contribute to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, as well as exacerbate existing mental health conditions. Individuals may find it challenging to concentrate, retain information, and make decisions effectively, affecting their performance at work or school. Addressing the underlying causes of poor sleep quality is crucial for maintaining overall health.

18. Poor Nutrition

foods for eye health

Poor nutrition does not directly damage eyesight. However, a diet lacking essential nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, E, and zinc, can increase the risk of eye conditions like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Eating an eye-friendly balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich foods can promote good eye health and improve the quality of your life.

Why Annual Eye Exams are Important?

It is advisable to include a visit to an eye doctor as part of your annual wellness checkup to assess your eyesight. Annual exams can help identify potential eye conditions that may be developing under the radar, allowing for early intervention before they become more serious.

Taking proactive steps to keep your eyes healthy and showing up for eye checkups is the best way to prevent eye damage and preserve your vision for the long run.


Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.

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