Summer is a big season for eye care—and not just because July is Eye Injury Prevention Month and August, Cataract Awareness Month. According to Dr. Benjamin Azman of Azman Eye Care in Timonium, the warmer months can be particularly hard on eyes.
“People are out playing sports without protective eyewear or goggles and they’re swimming in contact lenses that absorb the microorganisms and bacteria in the water,” he says, citing a few potentially dangerous activities.
“Summer is also a bad time for firework and firecracker injuries,” adds Dr. Robert Leikin of Katzen Eye Group. “People set them off without protective gear, even though there are obviously sparks coming off of them.”
But the worst eye crime of all is crystal clear: Not wearing sunglasses.
“No one’s going to go to the beach without any sunblock, so why go without sunglasses?” Azman asks. “Yes, your skin protects your body, but the eyes are so valuable to how we function and they need to be protected, too.”
Sun exposure can cause more than just temporary discomfort, Azman explains. On a short-term basis, people can suffer solar karetitis, a sort of sunburn of the eye that causes inflammation and searing pain. Long-term exposure is even worse—pinguecula, an overgrowth of the white part of the eye, can be accelerated by sun exposure and may eventually grow over the cornea to cause visual impairment. The risk of developing cataracts later in life also increases substantially with prolonged exposure.
Fortunately, however, these risks can be diminished significantly simply by wearing sunglasses. Though, as Leikin points out, the type of shades you choose can make a big difference.
“Those John Lennon-type sunglasses may look cool, but not much of the eye is being protected—there is a lot of room for sunlight to get in. Wraparound sunglasses are best, but the more of the eye that’s covered, the better.”
Both doctors also recommend lenses with UVA/UVB protection, as well as polarized lenses to cut glare for those who plan on spending a lot of time by the water this season. And, unfortunately for fashionistas, going the cheap-and-trendy route can do more harm than good.
“It can actually be worse for your eyes to wear cheap sunglasses than not to wear them at all,” Azman says. “You think you’re protecting yourself, but the rays are getting through to the retina and penetrating the eye.”
And though most contact lenses are now being manufactured with built-in UV protection, it’s probably better to double up. Azman even advises taking it a step further by adding a hat to the mix.
(It’s worth noting that while this safety routine may be a no-brainer for parents with kids, Leikin stresses the importance of precautions for adults as well, adding that the vulnerability of the eyes is “no different for adults.”)
In honor of the special eye care-focused months, both doctors offer a piece of parting advice—which, as it turns out, is pretty simple: Go to the opthamologist.
“Any eye injury or infection can get very, very serious (and lead to eventual blindness) if left untreated,” says Leikin. “You should get checked regularly by a doctor to prevent damage.”
Azman adds that this is equally important for kids. “People don’t realize that pediatricians do a very quick analysis, and may not take their kids to a specialist until they’re older. Regular visits should start around the age of 2. It’s important for everyone to get their eyes checked!”