Eye-Ing Summer

Eye Care Tips For A Safe Summer Season

by Samantha K. McPherson, OD, FAAO // July-August-September 2020

The days are long and the sun is shining. Summer is here! While having fun in the sun, eye safety may come as an afterthought. However, there are several eye dangers that are of particular concern during the summer months, when people are enjoying the outdoors more frequently. Here are some tips to spot those summer threats and keep your eyes safe.

You probably don’t think twice about lathering on sunscreen to protect your skin from sunburn, but don’t forget the impact of UV exposure on your eyes. UVA and UVB rays are associated with a variety of vision-threatening conditions, including cataracts, macular degeneration, and eye cancers. Your eyelids are especially at risk for skin cancer because the sun bounces off your nose before landing on them. A pair of quality sunglasses that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and a wide-brimmed hat are effective shields against damaging UV rays. Children tend to spend more time outdoors than adults and their eyes allow more than six times the amount of UV light to penetrate than an adult’s eye. Damage from UV exposure is cumulative, increasing over years of sun exposure, so it’s never too early to start protecting a child’s eyes.

Glare can be very irritating when spending time outside. It makes it hard to see our smartphones or books while we’re trying to get some poolside reading done. It can make it hard to talk to our friends at a backyard cookout without “saluting” them while holding a hand over our eyes. It can frustrate a fisherman who is having a difficult time seeing into the water due to the reflective shimmer on the water’s surface. Glare causes visual discomfort, which can lead to eye fatigue and headaches. In some situations, glare can even pose a danger. Imagine trying to drive while looking through a blinding beam of reflective glare from the car in front of you. A polarized lens has a special chemical applied to the lens that reorganizes and filters light, which significantly reduces glare. Polarized lenses also enhance colors and improve contrast. Sunglasses with polarized lenses and UV protection are the ideal combination to keep your eyes safe and your vision sharp, no matter how sunny it is outdoors. Another option now available is a contact lens that will actually darken when exposed to sunlight, protecting your eyes from both uncomfortable glare and UV.

A hazard that lurks in swimming pools, lakes, and hot tubs is an amoeba called Acanthamoeba. Acanthamoeba can cause a devastating infection of the front surface of the eye that can result in blindness. An eye infection from Acanthamoeba can strike anyone, but most cases occur in people who wear contact lenses. It is safest to relax in a hot tub or swim without contact lenses. If this is not possible, remove and immediately clean your lenses after exiting the water – or better yet, consider wearing single-use contact lenses that can be thrown away and replaced promptly after finishing your water activity. It would also be a good idea to wear goggles with a tight seal if you must wear contact lenses during water activities. Acanthamoeba is a year-round threat because it is found in tap water, so it is critical that contact lens wearers never use tap water to store or rinse their lenses.

Fireworks are a beautiful sight to behold, but they can severely damage sight if not handled properly. Fireworks can rupture the eyeball and cause burns and internal eye damage. People injured by fire-works aren’t necessarily handling the fireworks themselves. In fact, 65% of people injured by fireworks are bystanders. Children and young adults are frequent victims of fireworks-related eye injuries. Young kids should not be allowed to play with fireworks because they may not understand the danger involved and may not act appropriately. Sparklers, a firework often considered by many to be “safe” and more like a toy, burn at very high temperatures and should be not be handled by young children. Never have any portion of your body directly over a firework while lighting and definitely do not experiment with homemade fireworks. To be safe, leave fireworks to the professionals and enjoy them from afar.

Beautifying your front yard and increasing curb appeal is a classic summertime task. However, the tools that keep your yard looking great are responsible for many eye injuries. Small stones and vegetative debris that fly out from things like edgers and hit the eye at very high speeds can cause painful scratches, or worse, actual punctures to the eyeball. Getting poked in the eye by an errant tree branch is not only very painful, but can also lead to a fungal infection of the eye. So when gardening or tackling yard work, wear protective goggles with polycarbonate lenses and side shields to help prevent these types of injuries.

Cheering for your favorite athlete’s team is a great summer pastime. If your favorite athlete is a child, don’t let eye injuries be a part of his or her game. School-aged competitors are particularly prone to eye injuries since their athletic skills (hand-eye coordination, balance, reaction time, and speed) are still developing. 72% of sports-related eye injuries occur in athletes younger than 25 years of age. Almost all sports-related eye injuries are preventable with proper eye protection. Getting hit in the eye by a fast-moving ball won’t necessarily cause the eyeball to “pop,” but such an injury can result in retinal damage or bleeding inside the eye, which can cause vision loss and glaucoma. Balls that cause the most damage are small enough to fit into the eye socket, such as a tennis ball, racquetball, lacrosse ball, or baseball. Standard ophthalmic glasses or sunwear are not recommended for use while playing sports. If you take a tumble or are hit by a fast-moving ball, the frame can break and cut your face or maybe even your eye. If the lenses do not conform to protective standards, they can actually increase the risk of injury because they could shatter. Protective sports eyewear should have polycarbonate (not plastic) lenses that meet or exceed ASTM F803 standards. Sports glasses also have padding on the inside of the frame, allowing for a more snug fit to minimize bouncing during movement while also providing a layer of cushion to absorb any impact.

You only have two eyes, so while you’re out enjoying summertime pursuits, don’t forget to take measures to keep them healthy. If you have any concerns, your eye doctor is your best resource for more information about eye health and safety.

Samantha K. McPherson, OD, FAAO

Founder of Dry Eye Center of NC, a subspecialty clinic of McPherson Family Eye Care.