Medically reviewed by Brittani Carver-Schemper
It’s summer and hopefully you’re enjoying some sunshine. But do trips to the pool give you red, irritated eyes? Or have you noticed blurred vision or redness after simply being out in the sun for too long? Summer poses a host of threats to our eye health – from dangerous exposure to UV rays to garden accidents.
We spoke to Dr. Brittani Carver-Schmper, an optometrist who also has first-hand experience with devastating eye conditions, to help your eye health through the hot summer months. Here are 10 ways to kick off summer with healthy, happy eyes.
1. Protect your eyes
We know that ultraviolet (UV) rays pose a threat to our skin, but what about our eyes? The World Health Organization estimates that UV exposure is responsible for up to 20% of cataracts (worldwide), which is the leading cause of treatable blindness worldwide. UV rays also age every part of the eye and increase the risk of macular degeneration, an irreversible, common cause of central vision loss. You can even get a sunburn on your eye — called photokeratitis — which can cause pain, redness, blurred vision, headache, or a gritty feeling. Using Tretinoin skin creams, taking antibiotics, and even having lighter eyes can put you at an even greater risk of UV damage.
Buy good sunglasses with 100% UV protection – and remember that not all brands that advertise UV protection actually protect against 100% of UV rays. Carver-Schemper recommends glasses with UVA, UVB and UVC protection.
A recent study found that the design and geometry of sunglasses influenced their effectiveness at blocking UV radiation to the eyes, so make sure your sunglasses fit properly. This study also found that sunglasses by themselves cannot completely block UV radiation.
Hats also help protect your eyes from UV rays. A hat with a 3-inch brim can block up to half of the UVB rays that can damage your eyes or lids.
Last but not least, seek out the shade. Spending time under trees, umbrellas, or another covered area while outside will help reduce your risk of UV damage to your eyes.
2. Be smart with sunscreen
Sunscreen helps prevent skin cancer and it is important to reapply it often. The thin skin on your eyelids and around your eyes needs special attention. Five to ten percent of all skin cancers occur on the eyelid.
Carver-Schemper recommends skincare products with built-in SPF. “But if you have to use a regular sunscreen, it’s better to use a mineral-based sunscreen because they’re made for sensitive skin and won’t sting your eyes when you sweat,” she added.
While you should try to get your sunscreen as close to your eye as possible, be careful. Incorrectly placed sunscreen can cause redness, tearing, burning and even blurred vision if it comes in contact with your eyes. If you do get sunscreen in your eye, Carver-Schemper recommends rinsing it out with artificial tears or OTC eyewash. If you don’t have either on hand, try distilled water or a towel. “We do not recommend [using tap] water… If you have distilled water, that’s fine, but water from a sink contains bacteria that can cause more eye problems,” explains Carver-Schemper.
3. Wear Artificial Tears
Washing off sunscreen isn’t the only reason you might need artificial tears this summer. Dry eyes, which occur when our tear production is out of balance, can be exacerbated during the summer season by wind, dry heat, and humidity. “Because the tear film is part of our vision, if our tear film isn’t working properly, you’re going to have problems with burning and tearing, and maybe fluctuations in vision,” Carver-Schemper said.
Preservative-free artificial tears are your best bet, as fewer additives reduce your risk of irritation.
4. Avoid time for fans
Spending time under fans while reading, working on the computer, or watching TV can exacerbate dry eyes in the summer. Pointing the car’s air conditioning directly at your eyes is also not a good plan. While the summer months can cause anyone to develop dry eyes, those with dry eyes are especially at risk for aggravation.
5. Treat Eye Allergies
If you have eye allergies in the summer, you will recognize the swelling, itching, tearing, redness and possibly blurred vision. Check with a health care professional (HCP) to make sure allergies are causing your eye irritation, and with the help of the HCP, you can decide whether eye drops, OTC allergy medications, or cold compresses can help relieve your symptoms.
6. Wear eye protection when working in the garden
Did you know that half of eye injuries occur at home? Fortunately, 90% of those injuries can be prevented by wearing proper eye protection. Invest in good eye protection so you can safely mow the lawn or work in your yard.
7. Keep your eyes safe in the water
If you are swimming anywhere, it is important to wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from irritation. And if you wear contact lenses, avoid wearing them in water. “Lakes and rivers in particular can cause a lot of problems with devastating contact lens infections that can permanently impair vision,” explains Carver-Schemper. If you can’t live without your glasses, she recommends using daily contact lenses or prescription glasses.
8. Eat healthy
Take advantage of all the fresh fruits and vegetables available to you in the summer. Leafy greens (spinach, arugula, and kale), tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and zucchini, in particular, are rich in important nutrients—carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin—that protect your eyes from damage and degeneration.
9. Stay Hydrated
“Dehydration can cause eyestrain, dry eyes, headaches and blurred vision,” Carver-Schemper said.
If you’re exercising outside this summer, you’ll probably notice your own perspiration. But maybe not in lakes, pools or the ocean. Either way, it’s critical to remember that you need to hydrate more during the summer months to help your entire body and your eyes function optimally.
10. Protect your children’s eyes
Eighty percent of UV damage to the eyes occurs before the age of 18, so it’s important to make sure your kids wear hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen when they’re outside. Wrap-around sunglasses are best for protecting every corner of kids’ eyes, and croakies can help kids keep an eye on their glasses.
So get out there and enjoy all that summer has to offer while following these safety tips. Your eyes will thank you.
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