Like many aspects of our health, it's easy to take eyesight for granted. In fact, we only tend to start worrying about our eyes when we suffer a loss of vision or there's an obvious infection.
But regular eye maintenance is as vital as any other part of our health. How should we be looking after our eyes so they're healthy, unstrained and giving us the best view of the world?
We asked Optometrist John Halpin to share five pieces of his best advice.
1. Are you seeing things?
You use your eyes every day to see, but how much do you really notice? John says the best and first thing to do is to simply be aware of any changes to your vision.
Any small changes - like general blurriness, spots, or straight lines that appear wonky - warrant a trip to the optometrist. "Don't mess about when it comes to your vision", says John.
"If lines that would usually appear straight all of a sudden have a blob in them, or the edges are blurred, make sure you jump on it straight away," he says.
If you're not sure whether or not you're seeing things, try testing your eyes individually, suggests John. You can do this just by placing a hand over each eye in turn.
"If you've got one blurry eye and one clear eye, you won't notice the blurry eye until you cover the clear eye up, because you're still seeing clearly," he explains.
2. Your optometrist is your new friend
Don't skip your optometrist appointment; as well as visiting when you notice a difference in your sight, you should schedule in regular eye checks to make sure everything is as it should be.
How often you need general eye checks depends on your age and whether you have any pre-existing eye conditions.
For general maintenance checks, John advises seeing your optometrist every two years. If you're over 65, he suggests yearly checks. And for kids, he recommends seeing an optometrist before they first start attending school, then every three years after that.
3. You don't have to put up with sore eyes
Go into any supermarket or pharmacy and you'll encounter numerous products that promise to moisturise, protect and reduce redness in your eyes. Should we be buying into these?
John says for any eye issues, make your first stop the optometrist, not the chemist.
"If the eyes are red, they're red for a reason, so just treating them cosmetically is not going to improve the problem. It's just a quick fix - you need to get to the bottom of the problem. Always start with a diagnosis," he says.
If you're suffering from sore, itchy eyes, you could have a common condition called 'dry eye'. Symptoms include weepy eyes, dry irritation and a 'gritty' sensation in the eyes.
"It's exceptionally common," explains John. The treatment, once diagnosed, is to keep the eyes clean and lubricated.
"What I suggest is a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and water, with a hot compress as well, and also a drop - preferably without preservatives - just to keep the eye moist." He suggests cleaning the eyes daily using an eye bath.
4. Splurge on your sockets
Blepharitis is a condition often associated with dry eye. As well as causing similar symptoms in the eye, it also affects the lids, causing them to become itchy, red and irritated. If you've been diagnosed with this, John advises being careful of what you apply around the eye area.
"If you have any lid or dry eye problem, that's when you'll have a problem with makeup or creams. Little bits of mascara will break off and go into the eye itself."
John recommends investing a little more in hypoallergenic products and keeping the eyes as clean as possible. Dry eye and blepharitis tend to be re-occurring conditions, so pre-mix your bicarbonate of soda solution (a teaspoon in half a litre of cooled, boiled water will do) and keep it by the sink with an eyebath so that it becomes part of your daily routine. As always, ask your optometrist if you need any additional treatment.
Make your #onechange
If you're overdue for a check-up, book an appointment with your Optometrist today.
5. Shift your focus
If you spend your working day in front of a computer screen or your evenings in front of your phone screen, we have some bad news: screens and eyes unfortunately aren't allies. In fact, the closer you sit to a screen, the worse it is - at such close proximity (often only 20cm), your eyes are forced to focus more.
"You concentrate more, and don't blink as much as you should," says John. "So, your eyes will tend to dry out - and it creates eye strain because of that distance."
A mild prescription could help, he says, but so could a combination of other things: regular breaks, cutting down your extended screen time, and putting more distance between your eyes and the display.
If you need to spend long periods in front of a screen, John suggests looking to the distance every 20 minutes or so, and using a moisturising eye drop if you notice that your eyes are stinging.