Q: We spend a lot of time outside in the mornings, days at the water park and visit the beach. I often worry about the damage the that bright reflections, sand and water could be doing to my children’s eyes. What can I do to help keep their eyes safe during summer? – Sarah, Queen Creek
A: We all love summer—that magical vacation season when school is out and all of our cares melt away like ice cream in the Arizona sun. As we spend more time outdoors and in the water, we also have to remember to protect our eyes.
We all know to wear sunscreen to protect our skin from ultraviolet (UV) light, yet we may not realize that UV light can also damage the eyes, with much of our overall UV exposure occurring before age 20 (National Center for Biotechnology Information).
When outside, always wear polarized sunglasses with a minimum confirmed UV400 rating, especially when surrounded by water. Nearly 25% of sunlight reflects off water or bright sandy beaches, bringing more direct UV radiation into the eyes. Prolonged exposure can result in photokeratitis (the equivalent of a sunburned eyeball), as well as retinal damage or the progression of conditions such as cataracts. For anyone enjoying a day at the beach, the pool, or fishing, polarized sunglasses help to filter out the reflected light’s more direct approach while giving the added benefit of reducing glare from the water. For more active sports like baseball or soccer, you may want to use protective eyewear to prevent injuries.
Also use goggles to help protect the eyes from irritants in the water, such as chlorine, salt, or bacteria. If eyes are red at the end of a day in the water, use over-the-counter, preservative-free artificial tears. This type of eye drop will help soothe the eyes without adding any extra irritants. If your eyes are still feeling irritated after a couple of hours, see your doctor to rule out an infection.
If you or your children wear contact lenses, never wear them in the water. Bacteria and other organisms can work their way under contacts, which provides the perfect environment for germs to thrive. This can lead to sight-threatening conditions like corneal ulcers—a painful experience that can easily be avoided if you wear your contact lenses properly.
What about those days when the Arizona sun drives us indoors to escape the heat? At any time of year, we can help reduce stress on our eyes from indoor activities by minimizing exposure to our phones, tablets, and computer screens. Studies show that humans tend to blink far less when looking at backlit screens, which then causes our eyes to dry out and become irritated. Additionally, a condition known as Computer Vision Syndrome can arise when we use these devices too much, resulting in eyestrain or headaches. This happens primarily from poor lighting, being on your devices for long stretches at a time, or improper viewing distances. Make sure the screen is at least a forearm’s length away, and to give your eyes a break, follow the 20-20-20 rule—every 20 minutes, look at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This allows the eyes to relax and reset before starting that next computer game or TV episode.
If you or your children haven’t had an eye examination in the past year, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor to make sure that your family’s eyes are healthy and ready for your best summer yet!
The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding any possible medical condition.
Matthew Roe, O.D., FAAO, is an Assistant Professor for the Midwestern University Arizona College of Optometry and an optometrist at the Midwestern University Eye Institute in Glendale, Arizona. The Midwestern University Eye Institute utilizes the latest technology to provide high-quality care for the public at affordable prices. Visit www.mwuclinics.com/az/ei or call 623.537.6000.