Protecting your eyes in the summer
Tanning in the sun, swimming in the sea, cocktails on the beach – this is how we love to spend our summer. Whether you’re jetting off to exotic shores or making the best of your staycation, you need to ensure that you keep your eyes healthy throughout the summer season. Here are some tips to keep your eyes happy.
During the UK summer, pollen levels rise dramatically, and with 95% of hay fever sufferers being allergic to grass pollen, it’s no wonder that the summertime can be an ongoing struggle for some of us.
If pollen causes your eyes and nose trouble, try to:
- Avoid going outside as much as you can
- Wash your clothes after going outside
- Wear wraparound sunglasses
- Keep your windows and doors closed
If you wear contact lenses, make sure that you maintain a daily cleaning routine with your recommended solution. This will help prevent the building of allergens on the surface of your contact lenses. Alternatively, you could consider using daily disposable lenses, ensuring that you are free from all risks of contamination and discomfort.
Safety first when swimming
Are you a contact lens wearer? Heads up! Regardless of whether you’re swimming in the ocean or simply taking a dip in the paddling pool with the kids, you should always look to protect your eyes by removing your contact lenses. Prescription goggles are available and will allow you to fully enjoy taking the plunge.
Should your contact lenses come in contact with water, then clean and disinfect them with a fresh solution to avoid eye infections.
Stay away from air conditioning
When the sun is blazing down on your car and you’re stuck in long queuing traffic on those hot summer days, flicking on the air con can be a great respite from the uncomfortable heat. However, beware that air conditioning fans blowing directly into your eyes will cause them to dry out quickly.
Prolonged exposure can result in dry eye syndrome, or cause your contact lenses to slip out, making driving impossible. Turning the fans away from your face and ensuring that you have a spare pair of glasses to hand is always advisable.
Protect your eyes
We all know that the sun has powerful UV rays, which can be extremely dangerous for our skin and our eyes. Making sure you’re equipped with the right sunglasses can significantly increase your defence against them. Wrap-around style glasses with both 100% UVA and UVB protection are ideal: not only protecting your eyes from direct UV rays but giving extra protection along the sides from dust contaminants and pollen.
Another consideration when it comes to UV protection is keeping your blood plasma level high through regular Vitamin C intake. Eating plenty of luscious fruit and vegetables is a must, and Vitamin C-rich citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges are particularly beneficial.
Exposure to UV radiation from natural sunlight (as well as artificial sources) is closely linked to a wide range of eye conditions. This includes cataracts, macular degeneration and skin cancer around the eye.
What are UV rays?
Ultraviolet radiation is a type of light that is invisible to the human eye, and part of the spectrum that reaches us from the sun. UV wavelengths are divided into three types: UVA, UVB and UVC.
Most UVC from the sun’s rays is absorbed into the ozone layer, preventing it from reaching us on earth. UVA and UVB are both able to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere fully, with UVA making up around 95% of the total rays.
Excessive exposure to UV rays can result in the front surface of the eye becomes damaged, much like sunburn on the skin. Without proper precautions, these rays can also have harmful cumulative effects that may develop over time.
Too much exposure to UV rays may result in one or more of the following eye conditions:
- Cataract: The lens inside the eye can become clouded, seriously obstructing normal vision.
- Skin cancer around the eyelids: Skin cancer around the eye most commonly develops in the form of lesions around the lower eyelid, but it can also appear on the upper eyelid or the corner of the eye.
- Pterygium: A non-cancerous growth may develop in the corner of the eye, possibly obstructing the cornea and obstructing vision.
- Photokeratitis: Highly painful (but usually temporary) burn to the cornea. Most commonly associated with not wearing sunglasses in locations with a lot of reflected sunlight such as the beach or snowy regions.
There are several precautions you can take to keep your eyes safe in the sun. The easiest way is to wear sunglasses when outdoors. When choosing your sunglasses, consider the following for eye safety:
- UV-blocking lenses: Always choose lenses that block 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB light. Also, check whether they block the HEV light.
- Wraparound styles: Large, closely-fitting frames are ideal for protection from the sun. Larger lenses also help to block more of the sunlight.
- Polarised lenses: Polarised lenses help to reduce glare, which can help prevent light-related headaches or migraines.
- Durability: It’s usually worth spending a little extra on sunglasses with the solid build quality. Broken sunglasses won’t do the best job of protecting your eyes!
Drink, drink, drink
Good hydration is the key to surviving the summer, and not just for those who wear contact lenses. Our bodies are made up of around 75% water, so topping up on your H2O is always a good idea. When it comes to eye health dry eye syndrome is a common eye problem throughout the summer, with dry climates, heat, wind and even high altitude all playing a part. So it’s imperative that you try to drink the recommended 2.5 litres (if you are a man) or 2.0 litres (if a woman) of fluids every day.
Can the summer heat harm your eyes?
The scorching summer sun can take a toll on the entire body, yet it’s often our eyes that feel the effects the most.
Increased heat and a high level of allergens in the air make your eyes more vulnerable to contracting summer-related eye ailments and allergies. While conjunctivitis is the most prevalent problem, dry eye, a stye and those pesky eye allergies are a few other obstacles that our peepers may have to tackle throughout the summer.
So, what are the tell-tale signs of an eye infection? And what can you do to prevent recurring symptoms?
Extreme heat can increase the risk of dehydration as the body works to preserve the number of bodily fluids. And when your body is not adequately hydrated, your eyes can suffer. In hot and dry environments, your natural tears evaporate more quickly, leaving the eyes dry and sore – a condition commonly known as dry eye syndrome. The good news is, the condition is easily treated using lubricating eye drops. Other tips for preventing dry eye include drinking plenty of water throughout the day and avoiding foods that are high in salt content.
Eye allergies can occur at any time of year, however, they are especially common during the spring and summer months when the flora is in full bloom. When airborne allergens like pollen, mould, dander and dust, come into contact with the eye, a substance called histamine is released which causes uncomfortable symptoms, such as red, itchy and watery eyes. Naturally, allergy sufferers rub their eyes in an attempt to relieve their symptoms, only to irritate the eye even more.
If eye allergy symptoms are mild, over-the-counter eye drops are usually effective. However, those who suffer from severe allergies may need to visit a doctor to be prescribed stronger medication.
Commonly known as Pink Eye, Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva – the thin membrane that covers the front of the eye and the inside of the eyelids. Conjunctivitis shares similar symptoms to dry eye, including pain, itchiness, redness and watery eyes, making it difficult to differentiate between the two conditions. What’s more, dry eye can be a side effect of conjunctivitis. It’s usually triggered by a bacterial infection or virus and is highly contagious. Common types of conjunctivitis include:
Viral Conjunctivitis – caused by an airborne virus, this form of conjunctivitis is highly contagious, but will usually clear up on its own without treatment.
Bacterial Conjunctivitis – caused by bacteria entering the surface of the eye, this type of conjunctivitis requires immediate treatment, usually in the form of antibiotic eye drops or ointments.
Allergic Conjunctivitis – caused by allergens including pollen, animal dander and dust mites, allergic conjunctivitis may flare up in specific seasons throughout the year.
In most cases, conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic eye drops and ointments prescribed by a doctor, though if not treated it can progress to a severe and sight-threatening infection.
On diagnosis, one should maintain good hygiene and thoroughly wash their hands after touching or treating infected eyes. You can reduce the risk of contracting conjunctivitis by avoiding sharing towels and pillows with anyone during the summer months. If you’re a contact lens wearer, it’s wise to swap your contacts for specs until the eye has been treated.
Styes are another common eye condition that is caused by inflammation or infection of the eye. In the summer, foreign particles can creep into the tear film and cause the glands that sit around the eyelid to become blocked and swollen. Red lumps can form along the edge of the eyelid, close the lashes.
Although styes are not normally serious, they can be irritating and painful. If you develop a stye, it’s important to maintain proper hygiene to reduce symptoms and prevent reoccurrence. Wash your hands regularly, use a warm compress on the affected area and avoid using makeup until the eye has healed. If you’re a contact lens wearer, you’ll need to be extra diligent. Most styes can be treated at home in a few days, but if symptoms persist, visit a doctor.
How to keep your eyes infection-free this summer
There are a few simple acts of self-care that you can follow to keep your eyes infection-free this summer:
Wear sunglasses to shield your eyes from the sun, pollen and other summer elements.
Beat the heat by staying hydrated.
Wear goggles when swimming. If you’re a contact lens wearer, be sure to remove your lenses before taking a dip.
Avoid sharing pillows, towels, or anything else that your eyes might come into contact with.
Bare your beautiful face. If you suffer from eye allergies, avoid wearing makeup around the edge of your eyes.
Practice good personal hygiene by washing your hands regularly with soap and water.
If you’re a contact lens wearer, consider switching to daily disposables during the summer months to avoid the buildup of allergens on your lenses.
Avoid self-treatment. If any of these symptoms become severe, be sure to seek medical advice.
Whether you’re spending the summer in the back garden or lying on the beach in Italy, make sure you’re fully equipped and ready to enjoy it. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, ‘by failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.’