Hey nurse, are you taking care of your eyes?

Staff photo

Eye health is one more nursing irony. The work involves so much "seeing," from reading charts and digital data to interpreting health-related emotions on patients' faces. But the work also tends to challenge healthy vision, with the prominence of fluorescent lights and too much screen time, along with diets that aren't always eye health-friendly.

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But nurses can readily revamp their appraoch to healthy eyes and rebound from eye strain. Here are some suggestions from optometrists and registered dietitians:

Rest your eyes during computer work. According to board-certified optometrist Jennifer Wagh of ReFocus Eye Health, when you do marathons on the computer your eyes need to pause and refresh. "It's the year 2020, so this quick tip should be easy to remember: optometrists like to call it the 20-20-20 rule," she said. "For every 20 minutes of near work, such as computer use or reading, look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This simple task gives your eyes a well-deserved break!"

Tear up artificially. Wagh also recommends a simple way to avoid dry eyes at work. "Keep a bottle of artificial tears near your work area. When you are focused on a task, especially on bright screens, you can forget to blink. Blinking is an instinct so we don't think about how often we blink. A lack of blinking contributes to dry eye, so instilling a drop of lubrication can help replenish your tear film."

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Schedule an annual comprehensive eye examination. Sure, nurses can be the last to practice the self-care that they offer others. But an eye exam can lead to reduced eye strain and prevent headaches. "Many people suffer from headaches from working on computers for most of the day," Wagh added. "Sometimes a mild glasses prescription can help relieve the tension caused by overexertion of your eye's focusing system. Talk to your eye doctor about what works best for your eyes!"

Eat for eye health. According to an American Academy of Ophthalmology blog post reviewed by Brenda Pagan-Duran, MD, "eating a diet low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help not only your heart but also your eyes. This isn't surprising: Your eyes rely on tiny arteries for oxygen and nutrients, just as the heart relies on much larger arteries. Keeping those arteries healthy will help your eyes."

The Age-Related Eye Diseases Study, funded by the National Eye Institute, determined "high levels of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduce the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration and its associated vision loss."

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Eye-healthy food choices include citrus fruits, vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables and cold water fish, according to AAO. Vitamin C is another friend, since it "helps protect the body from damage caused by some things we eat, unhealthy habits and environmental factors," according to AAO. "Fried foods, tobacco smoke and the sun's rays can produce free radicals--molecules that can damage and kill cells. Vitamin C helps repair and grow new tissue cells."

Pick up some sweet potatoes. One of the top foods to focus on: orange-colored vegetables and fruits with vitamin A, according to the AAO. "Your retina needs plenty of vitamin A to help turn light rays into the images we see," it said. "Also, without enough vitamin A, your eyes can't stay moist enough to prevent dry eye."

"One medium sweet potato (five inches long) has only 100 calories, 24 grams of carbohydrate and 438% of the daily value of vitamin A!" registered dietitian Rahaf Al Bochi, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of the Atlanta-based Olive Tree Nutrition, noted on her blog. "Vitamin A acts as an antioxidant which helps protect your body from cellular aging. It's also important for eye health to help you see in the day and night."

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And lest you think these eye superfoods have to be boring, check out this lunch recipe with sweet potatoes as a key ingredient from Al Bochi's blog:

From Olive Tree Nutrition/registered dietitian Rahaf Al Bochi


3 medium sweet potatoes

For Bean Salad

1 cup chickpeas, homecooked or canned and drained

1 tomato diced

1 green onion, chopped, white and green parts

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1 lemon

2 Tbsp olive oil

Pinch of salt

Yogurt Tahini Dressing

1 cup yogurt

2 Tbsp tahini

4 Tbsp water


1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Wash and slice the sweet potato in half lengthwise.

Place face down on baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until thoroughly cooked.

3. In a bowl, combine chickpeas, tomato, parsley, onion, lemon, olive oil and salt. Mix and set aside.

4. Prepare the yogurt tahini dressing by mixing all the ingredients together.

5. Once the sweet potato comes out of the oven and is cool enough to handle, create an opening in the middle of each boat by gently pressing down on each with a spoon.

6. Spoon the bean salad into the boat and drizzle the tahini yogurt dressing on top. Enjoy right away.