Thousands of New Zealanders have problems with their vision every year. Some of these problems can cause permanent vision loss and even blindness, while others are common problems that can be easily corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

Save our Sight Month (September) is an annual event when the country’s optometrists take the opportunity to remind kiwis how precious their sight is and the importance of regular eye exams for maintaining good eye health.

A comprehensive eye exam is a painless procedure in which an optometrist examines your eyes to look for common vision problems and eye diseases, many of which have no early warning signs. Your optometrist may prescribe corrective eyewear to help you see your best. The most common forms of vision correction are prescription eye glasses and contact lenses.

Even people who have had perfect vision as a child or young adult, can find their eyesight and eye health changes as they get older.

Perhaps you find yourself squinting to read your favourite magazine. Maybe driving around town while running errands becomes more of a challenge, particularly at night. Or you may find yourself jockeying to sit in the chair closest to the TV—for a better view. If any of these scenarios hits home, you may have a common vision problem and not know it.

According to the NZ Association of Optometrists (NZAO), the number of New Zealanders with vision problems continues to rise. Diabetes, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, cataract – these are major causes of impaired vision and all are increasing as the age of our population increases.  Astigmatism, hyperopia, myopia – these are all very common refractive errors that happen to young and old alike.  

You might think your vision is fine or that your eyes are healthy, but visiting your optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to really make sure. When it comes to refractive errors, some people don't realise they aren't seeing as well as they could with glasses or contact lenses. In terms of eye disease, many common eye diseases (glaucoma, diabetic eye disease and age-related macular degeneration) often have no warning signs.

For the times between exams, the NZAO offers a few tips for healthy eyes and good vision:

Eat right to protect your sight. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens.  Research has also shown there are eye health benefits from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes and other systemic conditions which can lead to vision loss, such as diabetic eye disease or glaucoma. If you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, talk to your doctor.

Quit smoking or never start. Smoking is as bad for your eyes as it is for the rest of your body. Smoking has been linked to increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataract and optic nerve damage, all of which can lead to blindness.

Wear protective eyewear. Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities like DIY or gardening.

Be cool and wear your shades. Sunglasses are important for protecting your eyes from the sun's ultraviolet rays. When purchasing sunglasses, look for ones that comply with the latest Australian/New Zealand standards.

Give your eyes a rest. If you spend a lot of time at the computer or focusing on any one thing, your eyes can get fatigue and you sometimes forget to blink. Try the 20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look up and away for 20 seconds. This can help reduce eyestrain.

Know your family's eye health history. Talk to your family about their eye health history. It's important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with a disease or condition since many are often hereditary. This will help you determine if you are at higher risk for developing an eye disease or condition.

Ways to Protect Your Eyes