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Summer activities & sun pose threats to eye health

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POSTED May 29, 2012 6:34 p.m.

Summer may be a great time to get away and enjoy the great outdoors but the season presents probably the greatest threat to eye well-being.

The biggest threat to eye health is the sun, which burns longest and hottest in the summer – the time when we are outside the most.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun are capable of burning the cornea, a condition called photokeratitis. UV rays are also thought to be related to cataract development and age-related macular degeneration. Eyelids can be harmed when sunburned or develop skin cancer.

Sunglasses are a good start to eye care, so look for shades that will protect you from 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays (two different forms of ultraviolet light that often cause damage to eyes). If the label does not specify both of these, the sunglasses will not provide adequate protection. Choose sunglasses that fit close to the face. Wrap-around style glasses may not look coolest but they provide better protection. Don’t be fooled into thinking the color or tint of the lenses is important. It is possible to have UV coatings even on clear lenses.

Polarized lenses also may provide added comfort and protection to people who spend time surrounded by horizontal surfaces such as roofers, truck drivers, or fishermen. This is because polarized lenses block the light rays that are reflected from these surfaces while allowing many of the direct rays to penetrate through the lens. Sunglasses alone cannot offer the full protection needed.

Always wear a large brimmed hat as well.

Because lawn care is at its zenith in summer, eye protection is advised for pruning hedges, using a weed trimmer or lawn mower. Glasses should comply with the standards set for industrial use by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and be made of a shatter-resistant polycarbonate material. Even safety lenses are not completely shatter-proof, so some common sense is needed. The polycarbonate material will also provide the needed UV protection.

Eye care in sports

For those who enjoy summer sports, precaution is needed to protect the eyes on the field. Baseball is responsible for five percent of serious eye injuries in the United States, says the U.S. Eye Injury Registry. These injuries may include orbital fractures which damage the bone structure surrounding the eye, corneal abrasions or scratches to the eye, hyphemas or bleeding within the eye, or retinal detachment where the rods and cones pull away from the back shell of the eye.

The batter is at the greatest risk for these injuries. Face guards made of polycarbonate material on batting helmets could prevent a significant number of these injuries.

Those playing soccer, basketball or football should also wear proper protective eyewear, preferably eyewear approved by the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM).

All persons who have had LASIK refractive surgery should be especially careful to prevent eye injuries which may cause the flap created during the surgery to shift.

Water fun and eye care

Swimmers need to be aware of dangers. Swimming goggles can protect eyes from waterborne bacteria and swimming pool chemicals. The same bacteria that live in pools, lakes, and hot tubs also can live in your eyes.

Wearing contact lenses in the water increases the risk of an infection since they may attract the bacteria and hold them adjacent to the eye. No contact lenses are approved by the FDA for swimming. When looking for goggles, look for ones that have padding that rests on the bones surrounding the eye rather than on the soft tissue. Also look for these in polycarbonate material to protect against breakage and UV rays.

Eyes that are red, painful, sensitive to light or decreased in vision could be a sign of an eye infection. Anyone who believes their eyes are infected should see an eye care provider.

Pool chemicals can also irritate eyes. In cases of mild irritation, it’s advised that one use artificial tears or lubricating drops to help soothe eyes. Do not use over-the-counter medications that are intended to decrease the redness as these will just make the eyes sting.

Finally, a warning regarding fireworks. Fireworks can cause serious eye injuries including blindness. Children are at especially high risk because they are naturally curious and want to look to see if the firecracker is lit. Since the firecrackers have a delayed reaction, the child may be looking right at it when it explodes. Do not use fireworks at home. Even sparklers can cause serious injury. Protect yourself and celebrate Independence Day by attending public displays of fireworks put on by trained professionals.

Summer is a good time to get outdoors and enjoy the warm weather. A little bit of caution can help keep your eyes safe and healthy not only this summer, but for the years to come.


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