OakLeaf Medical Network Healthy Viewpoints, Winter 2003
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Siobhan Beeksma, OD

Summer Eye Care

By Siobhan Beeksma, OD

As the temperature goes up, images of summer come to mind. I like to think of sunny days at the beach, warm evenings watching baseball, and sitting on the porch waiting for the Fourth of July fireworks to begin. However, these activities pose some threat to vision if the eyes are not properly protected.

As you pull out your summer wardrobe and go looking for a pair of sunglasses, here are some things to consider. The sun emits light of all different wavelengths. The most dangerous wavelengths to the eye are the ultraviolet (UV) rays. These rays are capable of burning the cornea, a condition called photokeratitis. This can be very painful as the cornea is especially sensitive. The UV rays are also thought to be related to cataract development and age-related macular degeneration. The eyelids can be harmed when sunburned or develop skin cancer.

Here are some tips for purchasing sunglasses. Most importantly, make sure that the label says that the sunglasses will protect you from 99-100% UVA and UVB rays. These are two different forms of ultraviolet light, both of which can cause damage to the eyes. If the label does not specify both of these, the sunglasses will not provide adequate protection. Choose sunglasses that fit as close to the face as possible. Consider wrap around styles as they provide better protection. Neither the color of the lenses, nor the price of the glasses, is important. Many people prefer dark tints on the sunglasses to increase eye comfort in bright light; however, it is possible to have UV coatings even on clear lenses. Polarized lenses also may provide added comfort 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.

Sunglasses are not the only eyewear needed in the summer. Many of our summer activities require additional eye protection for safety. Whether you are pruning hedges, using a weed trimmer or lawn mower, or working under a car, you should protect yourself with safety glasses. Your glasses should comply with the standards set for industrial use by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). They should 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.

For those who enjoy summer sports, eyewear is needed on the field. The US Eye Injury Registry reports that 5% of serious eye injuries in the United States are baseball related. The baseball is just the right size to put significant pressure on the bones surrounding the eye or the eyeball itself. 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. If you play soccer, basketball, or football you also should wear proper protective eyewear. 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. Regardless of the sport in which you participate, look for eyewear that has been approved for sports by the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM).

If you swim for sport or recreation, you should wear swimming goggles to protect yourself 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. The signs that you have developed an infection are your eyes become red, painful, sensitive to light, or your vision decreases. If you experience any of these, you should call your eye care provider right away. The chemicals in the swimming pools can also irritate the eyes. If mild irritation is a problem, use artificial tears or lubricating drops to help soothe the eyes. Do not use over-the-counter medications that are intended to decrease the redness as these will just make the eyes sting. 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. Some goggles have anti-fog coating or vents to help keep the lenses clear. Others are available in a prescription if needed.

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.

For more information, call Chippewa Valley Eye Clinic 715.834.8471