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Sun in your Eyes?

Sept 20, 2019

Our eyes are sensitive organs, and we have to treat them with caution and kindness. Each season brings about it’s own set of challenges for ocular health. During autumn, the sun is low on the horizon, so we’re exposed to more UV radiation. The wintertime brings snow, which reflects the sunlight and can cause snow blindness. For allergy sufferers, springtime is also colloquially known as “allergy season” - that means puffy, red eyes, and all that comes with them.

Summertime might be the season you need to be the most mindful about your eyes. You’ll be outside for long stretches of time, swimming in the pool, lazing by the beach, hiking trails, going on vacation, or just enjoying being able to walk around outside in a t-shirt. We’ve got tips to keep your eyes safe all summer long - and advice on what to do if things go wrong.

Hopefully, everyone reading this knows to wear sunscreen anytime you’re outside during the summer - if you didn’t, consider this friendly advice! Your eyes are sensitive to UV rays, too; they can cause a host of different problems. Of course, there’s no sunscreen for your eyes, so we need to get creative. That’s where sunglasses come in; look for sunglasses that provide 100% UVA and UVB protection. Wraparound sunglasses maximize your protection, because they protect the eyes from UV rays at all angles; traditional sunglasses don’t block sunlight coming in from the sides.

What poses a greater risk to your eyes: the afternoon sun in the city, or on the beach? You probably intuitively know that the beach sun can be more harmful, but why? You might remember we briefly mentioned snow blindness as a “winter risk” to your eyes - it’s good to know that the problem can come up in the summer, too (and we still call it snow blindness). The actual medical term for the condition is photokeratitis; you might think of it as sunburn on your eyes. Photokeratitis can occur if you stare at the sun (it should go without saying but, please - don’t stare at the sun). The more common form, snow blindness, can occur when the UV rays are reflecting off of other surfaces, namely snow, sand, and water. That means you should be especially careful when you’re on the beach. The signs of snow blindness include:

  • Pain
  • Blurriness
  • Tearing
  • A feeling of grit in the eyes
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Sensitivity
  • In rare instances, temporary loss of vision

After a laser vision correction procedure, cataract surgery, or other eye procedure, your eyes may be especially sensitive to UV rays, and extra precautions may be needed. Your surgeon will let you know what precautions you need to take - follow their instructions.

Water Safety

There’s nothing better than spending a summer day hanging out by the pool or by the lake. A hot day, the cool water on your skin, the bacteria getting into your contact lenses - okay, so maybe the last thing isn’t so great. Unfortunately, it’s a reality; hotel pools and public pools, while chlorinated, don’t always kill all of the bacteria. When you go to a lake, things are even worse - there’s no chlorine at all, and the microbes swimming around can easily lead to an eye infection. The best advice for people who wear contact lenses is to take them out before you go for a swim; if you can’t, wear watertight goggles.

Chlorine never feels good on the eyes; there’s a few reasons for this. Chlorine is an irritant, and the tissue of our eyes is particularly sensitive. Our eyes also have a tear film that chlorine is particularly tough on; the moisture of your eyes can quickly be wiped away by pool water. Watertight goggles are your friend once again here. For those that don’t have watertight goggles, there are a few ways to keep your eyes moist post-swim. You can wash your eyes out with clean water, use eye drops, or even use gel tears.

When you’re out swimming, it’s important to stay hydrated. That doesn’t just reduce your chances of getting sick from dehydration, it protects your eyes, too; your body is better at producing tears when you’re properly hydrated. Just don’t drink the pool water!

Eye Irritation

There’s a lot of different substances that can get into your eyes during the summer and cause irritation; we’ll go over a few of them, and what to do to clean your eyes out.

Sweat: Whether you’re working out, or it’s just really hot outside, sweat dripping from your forehead can get into your eyes. A bit of relief before we carry on; sweat in your eyes generally isn’t dangerous, though it can be unpleasant. Generally, your eye will begin to tear up, and you should feel relief in a few minutes; you can also wash your closed eyes with clean water to rinse the sweat out. Here’s something you should know: if your sweat is causing your eyes to burn, it means it’s got a very high concentration of salt, which means you’re dehydrated. Drink some water.

Sand: When you get sand in your eye, it can be tempting to rub your eye to try to get it out. Do not do this. Rubbing your eyes when there’s sand in it can cause a corneal abrasion; these abrasions are quite painful, and can lead to further complications down the line. Instead, flush your eyes out with fresh water or saline.

Chlorine: As we discussed above, chlorine is best washed out of the eye with fresh water in order to restore the tear film.

Sun: When your eyes are hurting from too much sun, the first move is to get out of the sun. Once you’re in a dark place, close your eyes, apply a cold, wet compress over them, and try to get some rest.

When you have any persistent eye irritation, redness, blurriness, or other symptoms, it’s a very good idea to get an eye exam. Going to an optometrist can help ensure that you don’t have damage to your eyes, and if you do, that the damage doesn’t progress further.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.