After a long winter, the sun’s warmth feels great. Just as our skin needs sun protection, the eye’s surface is vulnerable for potentially blinding sun-related diseases. The long days of sun filled recreation and many other spring activities can also lead to an increased risk of eye damage.
Dr. Mary Kay Migneco, Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences instructor at Washington University School of Medicine, advises sunlight is a risk factor for several eye diseases including cancer: “Exposure to ultraviolet radiation can increase the risk for development of cataracts and macular degeneration. While non-vision threatening, lesions on the lids such as basal cell carcinomas are also at increased risk.”
It is important to start wearing proper sun protection at an early age to protect eyes from years of damaging rays. To be eye smart in the sun, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends you wear 99 percent and higher UV (ultraviolet radiation) absorbent sunglasses to protect your eyes:
• Choose wraparound sun-glass styles so the sun’s rays can’t enter from the side.
• If you wear UV-blocking contact lenses, you’ll still need sunglasses.
• Add a hat to maximize protection; broad-brimmed hats are best.
• Limit exposure to UV-intense conditions: sunlight is strongest mid-day, at higher altitudes, and reflected off water, ice or snow.
• On cloudy days the sun’s rays can pass through.
Anyone of any age and skin pigmentation is susceptible to ultraviolet damage and some people may be at a greater risk. Many factors influence sun sensitivity including medications. There are drugs that can make your eyes more vulnerable to light explains Dr. Migneco, “Photo-sensitizing drugs can lead to photophobia.”
If you are taking any of the following common drugs, Dr. Migneco says it is vital to wear sunglasses and a hat whenever you go outside:
• Psoralens (used in treating psoriasis)
Spring is often a time to tackle outdoor chores. Lawn mowers propel objects at high rates of speed. Regardless of the debris thrown by a mower, it will penetrate the cornea, cause intense pain and inflammatory response. These eye injuries are easily preventable with safety eyeglasses that are worn during yard work. Wear safety glasses while doing home improvement projects that involve grinding metal, sandblasting, power washing or leaf blowing.
Chores inside your home may present an eye injury risk too. Using hazardous products such as oven cleaner and bleach can impact your eyes. Common household products cause 125,000 eye injuries each year.
The aroma of barbeques and fish fries are a part of outdoor fun. Take care around the grill or fire pit, often the sparks or ashes that fly through the air can get into your eyes. Cooking foods that can splatter hot grease or oil can also put your eyes at risk.
Cookouts and picnics may take you into contact with poison ivy, poison sumac, or poison oak. If you come in contact with any of these plants keep your hands away from the eyes. Exposure directly to your eye will require medical attention.
Popular sports can also pose a risk to your eyes. A national survey by the American Academy of Ophthalmology finds more than forty percent of eye injuries every year are related to sports. Most people do not wear protective eye-wear when playing sports like tennis or baseball. According to the U.S Eye Injury Registry, 5% of all eye injuries result from baseballs. Doctors say the smaller the ball, the greater the risk of an eye injury. Golf balls, tennis balls, and paint balls are the causes of common sports related eye injury.
Hitting the road on a trip? Put goggles in the trunk for car trouble. Spewing radiators can project steam at the eyes. Snapping bungee cords can hit the eye at 50 mph.
Everyone is at risk for eye damage and injuries but a few simple steps can help protect your sight for many seasons to come.