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When considering sun danger, so much of our attention is focused on the skin. But did you know that shielding your eyes from the harmful rays of the sun is just as important as protecting your skin?
Dr. Vinnie P. Shah, a member of our Ophthalmology team, is acutely aware of the eye risks associated with both short-term and long-term exposure to the sun and understands the importance of taking precautions to protect the eyes, especially during the summer months when people are spending more time outdoors. She notes, “Summer eye protection is a critical component of vision health maintenance.” Dr. Shah recently sat down to answer some questions about how to keep the eyes (a critically important human organ) safe this summer.
Q. What is the difference between UVA and UVB radiation and what are their negative effects on eyes and our vision?
There are many different types of rays in sunlight. Ultraviolet (UV) can be the most damaging to the body. Of the UV radiation that reaches the earth's surface, more than 95% is UVA and the remainder is UVB. UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin's thickest layer. UVB rays can burn the superficial layers of the skin and play a role in the development of skin cancer. Extended exposure to UV can increase your risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. UV exposure increases your risk of getting cataracts at an earlier age or more advanced cataracts. If your eyes are exposed to excessive amounts of UV light in a short period of time, you may experience photokeratitis, or a sunburn of the eye.
Q. Do I need to wear sunglasses on a cloudy day?
Even when it is cloudy, UV light is still present in the atmosphere and so sunglasses are advisable to protect your eyes. There is UV light on cloudy days and during all seasons of the year. In order for sunglasses to be adequate, they should block out 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB radiation.
Q. Does swimming pose any eye health risks?
Chlorine in pools can irritate your eyes and make them red and teary. The best way to ease the pain is to flush your eyes with cool, clean water or a saline solution. Wearing goggles can help prevent irritation from chlorinated water. Chlorine kills many viruses and bacteria, but there are some that may survive--they are more likely to cause problems if you already have a cut or irritation when you enter the water. Unlike chlorinated water, fresh water in lakes and ponds can contain bacteria and other organisms that can cause rare infections. Contact lens wearers should be especially careful--they are more susceptible to infections because of eye irritation and frequent hand/eye contact.
Q. Can my eyes become dehydrated?
Water is a critical element of the body and is needs for various organs to function, including the eyes. Drinking lots of water can prevent both your body and eyes from becoming dehydrated and will help prevent eye strain and dry eye. Your eyes need plenty of fluid to keep them hydrated. Dehydration makes it difficult for your eyes to produce the tears they need to stay properly lubricated and dry eye, eye strain, and vision problems can develop. It’s normal for dirt, dust, and other debris that’s in the air to find its way into your eyes, but if there is a reduction in tear production, there will be nothing there to flush the foreign matter out.
Q. What else can I do to protect my eyes in the summer?
Be sure to wear properly fitted protective eyewear/goggles when doing yard work and working with tools, etc. It only takes one second to injure your eyes and forever change your ability to see.
Q. How often should I get my eyes checked?
A comprehensive eye exam is recommended every 1-2 years, depending on your age, risk factors, and whether your currently wear corrective lenses. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a baseline eye exam at age 40. If you have diabetes, a yearly dilated eye exam is recommended to screen for problems related to diabetes in the eyes. If you are 65 or older, make sure you have your eyes checked every year for signs of diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.
Our SMG ophthalmologists provide comprehensive eye care for children and adults and are qualified to treat many common and uncommon eye disease. Visit one of our board-certified ophthalmologists to ensure you maintain good vision for years to come.