10 health habits for keeping cataracts out of the cockpit: Good vision goes beyond wearing glasses.

10 health habits for keeping cataracts out of the cockpit: Good vision goes beyond wearing glasses.

It’s easy to take your vision for granted. The Vision Council of America estimates that up to 75% of adults need glasses, but most people never think twice about eye health until there’s a problem. According to the National Eye Institute, though 80% of blindness is preventable, as many as 70% of adults will eventually develop avoidable conditions like cataracts. It goes without saying that good vision is important to everyone, but it’s especially important for pilots to protect their vision, as their very livelihood depends on it.

Most professional pilots have experienced the lingering fear that a single catastrophic event could result in the loss of their FAA medical. Despite knowing the impact eye damage could have on an aviation career, many still do not take the steps necessary to reduce the risk of cataracts and similar ailments that are typically associated with age. While it is true that most people won’t notice vision impairment until their 60s, common signs of age-related vision problems can start appearing in people as young as 40 years old. In 2019 the FAA reported that the average age for airline pilots to be 50.8 years and the average age for private pilots as 48.3 years old. Therefore, most pilots are in an age range where they need to seriously take into consideration preserving their long-term eye health! At Method Seven, we love your eyes as much as you love flying. With this in mind, we’ve created a list of ten healthy habits you can incorporate into your life today to keep you flying for years to come.

1. Get routine eye exams with dilation.

Even if you have perfect vision, doctors can spot the early stages of eye conditions before you experience symptoms. Comprehensive eye exams with dilation are recommended at least every five years for those 40 years old and older—this is especially important if you have a family history of hereditary eye conditions. And of course, if you notice a sudden change in your vision, schedule an exam as soon as possible!

2. Eat a balanced, healthy diet with supplements.

Eating on the go, lack of healthy choices on flights, and hotel stays without refrigerators make it difficult for pilots to prioritize a balanced diet. Watching your diet isn’t always easy, so consider incorporating multivitamin and supplemental eye vitamins. When possible, choose colorful foods that are rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids. Vitamins A, C, E, Zinc, and omega-3 are full of nutrients that aid vision and protect eyes. Carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin build up pigment necessary to absorb harmful UV light. Nutrients found in leafy greens, eggs, fish, carrots, sweet potatoes, and citrus are essential in keeping the macula and retina healthy.

3. Stay hydrated.

Maintaining an adequate daily intake of water is especially difficult for pilots on long flights. Proper hydration not only mitigates fatigue and keeps your organs working properly, it’s also key to healthy tear quality. Recirculated air aboard flights can irritate and dry your eyes. Poorly lubricated eyes are more susceptible to infection, scratches, irritation, corneal ulcers, and in extreme cases, vision loss. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day and use rewetting eye drops at the first sign of irritation or redness.

4. Prioritize rest.

Unusual and long work hours experienced by most professional pilots can interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. Adequate sleep reduces eye strain, fatigue, and headaches, as well as giving your eyes time to heal from irritation. Giving your eyes sufficient rest goes beyond sleep. Rest your eyes by adjusting your focus every 20 minutes. Alternating your focus between a close-up object and a faraway object for 20 seconds at a time can reduce eye strain when feeling fatigued.

5. Exercise regularly.

Exercise plays a major role in maintaining a healthy weight and preventing systemic conditions tied to vision loss such as high blood pressure, poor circulation, and diabetes. Pilots, who often find themselves sitting for long periods of time while working, are particularly prone to poor blood flow. This can inhibit oxygen and nutrient delivery to organs, and is damaging to the eyes. Moderate physical activity is critical to improving circulation and reducing the risk of developing glaucoma.

6. Practice good hygiene.

Eyes are especially vulnerable to irritations and infections. To lower the risk of introducing bacterial and other contaminants that can damage eyes and affect vision, avoid touching your eyes. Likewise, keep irritants away from your eyes and thoroughly clean your hands before touching your eyes or handling contact lenses. Always disinfect and replace your glasses and contact lenses as directed by your doctor.

7. Be aware of poor air quality & don’t smoke.

Particulates from air pollution can cause corneal irritation and inflammation. Be sure to wear protective eyewear when necessary and wash eyes out with clean water. Smoking can also cause corneal irritation and dry eyes. Cigarettes have been linked to blindness as they dramatically increase the chance of developing cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration in both smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke.

8. Strive for good health.

Schedule annual physicals and regular checkups to manage your health and learn the proper precautions necessary to prevent hereditary conditions. The leading cause of blindness in adults is related to diabetes—and 90% of diabetes-related blindness is preventable. Moderate your intake of sugar, saturated fat, and especially alcohol to help prevent diabetes and preserve your vision.

9. Use protective eyewear.

Prevent eye injuries by using protective eyewear when appropriate. From wearing safety glasses while working in your hangar to flight goggles when piloting an open cockpit aircraft, make sure to shield your eyes from foreign particulates and blunt injuries.

10. Wear UV & IR blocking sunglasses.

One of the biggest threats to vision is harmful radiation, especially UV A, B, and C. Pilots have a much higher incidence of experiencing cataracts, which may be linked to radiation exposure at higher intensities and greater frequencies than the general public. The ocular lens of the eye is especially vulnerable to infrared radiation, and prolonged exposure has been shown to accelerate crystallization of the lens and production of cataracts. Most sunglasses provide little to no infrared protection. Method Seven pilot sunglasses block 100% of harmful UV light and offer protection from infrared. Simply wearing high quality sunglasses is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to protect your eyes.

You can never be too young to protect your vision and your career. With these guidelines and a good pair of Method Seven pilot sunglasses, caring for your eyes has never been easier. Take steps now to prevent cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and other forms of avoidable blindness and your eyes will thank you later.