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Eye health is especially important in summer

Most people are aware of the dangerous effects ultraviolet (UV) rays can have on our skin, but few of us realize the danger the sun imposes on our eyes. UV radiation, whether from natural sunlight or artificial UV rays, can damage the eye’s surface tissues as well as the cornea, lens and retina. It can burn the front surface of the eye much like the sun can burn our skin.

UV rays can also increase the risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration. The damage is cumulative, so the longer your eyes are exposed to UV radiation, the greater the risk of developing eye problems later in life.

The sun’s rays can pass through haze and thin clouds and damage the eyes anytime during the year, not just during the summer months. Here are few tips to protect your eyes:

Wear sunglasses

Wear sunglasses whenever you’re outside, especially in the early afternoon and at higher altitudes where UV rays are more intense. This is particularly important for children and teens as they tend to spend more time in the sun than adults and are at greater risk of damaging their eyes.

Neither the color of the lenses nor the price of the glasses matters. Just follow these tips to ensure adequate protection:

• Make sure the label says the lenses will block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.

• Choose sunglasses that fit as close to the face as possible. Consider wrap around styles as they provide better protection because they don’t allow the sun’s rays to enter from the sides.

• Don’t rely on contact lenses: Even if you wear contact lenses with UV protection, wear sunglasses to protect the area of the eye that is not covered by the lens.

• Do you need polarized lenses? Polarized lenses block horizontally reflected light, making them ideal for blocking glare from flat roads and water, providing added comfort professional roofers, truck drivers, and fishermen. They are also beneficial for those who spend a lot of time at the lake or making road trips.

• Photochromatic lenses darken when exposed to UV light and then convert to clear again when there is no exposure to UV rays. If you wear glasses, photochromatic lenses prevent the need for a separate pair of sunglasses.

• In addition to your sunglasses, wear a broad-brimmed hat to protect your eyes.

Use safety glasses

Whether you are making home repairs, pruning hedges, or working under a car, protect yourself with safety glasses that comply with the standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). If you do get something in your eye, flush your eye immediately with a sterile saline solution or water. If pain, blurry vision, redness or irritation persists, see your eye care provider or go to the emergency room. Do not rub the eye as you can further irritate or scratch the eye.

Protect eyes from summer irritants

• Allergens: People with especially sensitive eyes may want wear work goggles when doing yard work. Over-the-counter remedy for mild cases includes artificial tears. If symptoms persist, see your optometrist.

• Chlorine: Always wear goggles or keep your eyes closed when putting your head under chlorinated water. After swimming, refresh your eyes with cold artificial tears, which provide a gentle cooling sensation and instant relief for redness and dryness.

• Salt water and sand: Protect yourself from windblown sand by wearing sunglasses or shielding your face with a hat. Use goggles in the water and be sure to rinse your hands with fresh water after swimming in the ocean to avoid touching your eyes with salt water.

About Lisa Sandell OD

I am an optometrist with Via Christi Clinic in Wichita, Kan.