Why is my eyesight getting worse? Experts share 11 possible reasons why it's deteriorating

Wondering why your eyesight is getting worse? The reason might be more simple to fix than you think

Pair of transparent reading glasses on light pink background to symbolise eyesight getting worse
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If you’re wondering “why is my eyesight getting worse?” then you may need to take action because the risk of eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, and color blindness increase with each decade, and our lifestyles can sometimes be to blame.

Looking after your eyes is key, after all, they’re often deemed the most important of our five senses. They’re not just there to help us see, they’re also important for how others see us - they show our mood and assist with communication. 

No matter whether you're dealing with puffy eyes or you're concerned you might need a new prescription, here the experts lay out what could be making your eyesight worse and what to do about it in simple steps.

Why is my eyesight getting worse?

1. Too much screen time

Can’t get enough of that new binge-worthy series? Taking a break is essential for eye health, however addictive the show is, as screen time has been proven to have a seriously negative effect on our eyesight. Research from the University of Melbourne looked into how screen time affects our eye health and found a link between excess use of smart devices (like phones, tablets, etc) and a greater risk of myopia, otherwise known as near sightedness. 

Spending hours lusting after friends’ travel posts on Facebook or whole-season binges on Netflix can strain your eyes, making them red and dry, as well as causing tension headaches. And, in the long-term, gradual loss of tone in our eye muscles can cause vision problems, too.

What to do about it

“Use the same 20-20-20 rule that’s recommended for using the computer or mobile devices,” says expert optician David Hutchfield, head of professional services at Glasses Direct. “Every 20 minutes look at an object 20 feet away, for 20 seconds. This will allow your eyes to refocus and re-hydrate. I’d also recommend setting a time to stop bingeing so you don’t stay up too late and can have a decent nights’ sleep.”

Woman looking at phone and laptop together

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2. Rubbing your eyes too much

“It may feel satisfying when they’re tired or itchy, but rubbing eyes can cause damage in the long-term,” says optometrist Roshni Patel. “As you rub, the structure of the cornea can weaken, no longer hold the shape, and start to bulge outwards into a cone.” 

What to do about it

To avoid this condition, known as keratoconus, use a chilled eye mask or sterile saline eye wash to ease symptoms instead.

3. Leaving contact lenses in overnight

It’s easy to forget to remove lenses, especially when you’re busy. “But wearing lenses overnight can cause damage to your eyes and eyesight due to oxygen deprivation to the cornea, leading to blood vessel growth known as neovascularization,” says Patel. “The otherwise transparent cornea can become hazy as a result, leading to reduced vision. A compromised cornea also means an increased risk of infection and ulcers.” 

What to do about it

Set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to remove lenses, especially when you’re more likely to forget, such as if you’re going out in the evening.

Woman holding cup of coffee

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4. Too much coffee

Those coffee shop drinks or new at-home coffee trends can be oh-so-tempting to try but could be causing you issues. “Research from Pacific University shows caffeine can affect your short-term vision,” says Patel. 

“The longer you excessively drink it, the more serious the effects become and it can even increase your risk of glaucoma. Among the most common side effects are blurred vision and twitchy eyes.” 

What to do about it

Stick to just one cup a day, or try some healthy coffee alternatives, and swap to fruit teas and other caffeine-free options, such as camomile and red bush. Also be wary of consuming caffeine elsewhere, such as chocolate or cola.

5. Not protecting your eyes from the sun

Protecting your eyes against damage or deterioration is essential, yet only 9% of us admit to taking active steps to protect our eyes, found an Optrex ProVision EyeQ report. While this might sound obvious, “If you’ve been prescribed glasses, remember to wear them,” says Hutchfield. “And have the best prescription sunglasses to protect you from harmful UV light and to reduce glare.” 

Wearing sunglasses will protect your eyes from harmful UV rays - without them, you’re at higher risk of cataracts, age macular degeneration (AMD), pterygium, and pinguecula.

What to do about it

Keen gardener? Look for specialist buys from DIY stores or garden centers, which can help protect the eyes from flying debris. “Sunglasses are also useful for preventing accidents with loose sticks in the garden, but even better is specialist gardening gear designed to protect your vision from all risks, such as a flying pebble while mowing the lawn,” says Patel. “More protective gear in contact sports can also help prevent hits to the eyes.”

6. Smoking

Smoking has been found to increase the risk of developing cataracts and is a major contributor to the development of Thyroid Eye Disease (also known as Grave’s ophthalmopathy). “Many of the fumes that come from smoking can lead to the acceleration of eye damage, and even blindness,” says Patel. 

What to do about it

Quitting smoking might seem impossible at first, but your medical provider will be able to help and show you where to find support in your local area.

Woman with red lipstick putting on make up in the bathroom mirror

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7. Using old make-up

“Eye infections can occur if you do not regularly replace your eye make-up, especially mascara,” says Patel. “Disregarding this can lead to bacteria, mold, and yeast, which commonly lead to styes, an infection of the eye. Swelling and discharge can also occur.”

What to do about it

“Wash your hands before application and don’t use cosmetics after the expiration date on the label,” adds Patel. 

8. Not getting enough sleep

Lack of sleep can also have a negative effect on our vision. It can also result in eye bags, eye twitches, and dry eyes. “Sleep is essential for letting the eye muscles relax and reset while replenishing eye hydration,” says optometrist Nicola Alexander-Cross. “It also allows the eye’s retina to complete the ‘visual cycle’, whereby the nerve receptors essentially take out the trash overnight.” This is especially important after a day spent in meetings on Zoom.

What to do about it

Try to adopt a healthier sleep hygiene routine, which can involve going to sleep at the same time each night. Giving yourself a strict bedtime regime can help when it comes to learning to fall asleep easier or wake up early. If you're having regular issues with sleep, then speak to your medical provider.

9. Hormones

There are a number of changes that can happen to the eye with fluctuating hormone levels, including during pregnancy or as you start to experience menopause symptoms. “The shape of the eye can alter, meaning a change in prescription is needed, or wearing contact lenses may be more difficult,” says Hutchfield. 

And that’s not all. If you worry menopause could be wrecking your eye health, then you may be right. “Commonly, postmenopausal women experience dry-eye syndrome, where the eyes feel scratchy and uncomfortable. This is often accompanied by blurry vision and increased light sensitivity, and is made worse by dry conditions, such as air conditioning.” 

What to do about it

“There are a number of treatments available to alleviate the symptoms of dry eyes and your optometrist will be able to recommend the best one for you,” says Hutchfield. 

Selection of vegetables bathed in sunlight on kitchen table, including avocado, tomato, pepper, lettuce and cauliflower

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10. Not eating enough vegetables

“We immediately assume our diet affects our appearance, but we shouldn’t forget that what we eat has a direct impact on our optical health,” says Stephen Hannan, clinical services director at Optical Express. 

“A healthy, balanced diet can reduce the risk of developing eye conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration. So, a good serving of vegetables will result in a feast for our eyes as well as our stomachs.”

What to do about it

You can eat your way to healthier eyes by having a diet that’s rich in vitamin A, antioxidants, and zinc. Vitamin A, found in spinach and carrots, helps protect the retina and the cornea, while antioxidants, found in green tea and garlic, can help reduce the risk of cataracts and glaucoma. 

There are high levels of zinc in the retina, so eating foods high in this mineral (such as avocado and sunflower seeds) can help you to maintain good eye health.

Fill up on:

  • Green leafy veg 
  • Raw spinach (cooking it can reduce its potency). 
  • Avocado and sunflower seeds 
  • Yellow and orange peppers, and sweetcorn
  • Kale and carrots
  • Eggs
  • Plenty of water

11. Missing eye appointments

Too busy to book a check-up? “For most healthy people this won’t have a long-term effect on their eye health,” says Hutchfield. "But for those with pre-existing eye conditions that need to be monitored more frequently, such as glaucoma, delaying an eye exam may have a more serious long-term effect."

What to do about it

Make sure you visit your optical specialist at least once every two years for a thorough check-up, regardless of whether you think your vision has deteriorated.

Faye M Smith

Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021. Currently Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships.