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Protecting our eyes

Many of us have been wearing sunglasses this summer. I have to admit that I have had to laugh a couple of times when I have even seen dogs wearing sunglasses.

But how many of us think about the fact that this fashionable and often fun eyewear represents one of the many ways that we protect our eyes? Sun and wind are just some of the things that can damage them. While not taking life too seriously, we should still think about protecting our eyes from irritation, damage and accidents that can lead to future problems and even loss of vision.

Let’s start with the importance of protecting our eyes from sun and wind

We should wear sunglasses that block 100% of UV-A and UV-B rays. This is important as UV exposure has been linked to eye disorders such as macular degeneration, corneal dystrophies and even to cataracts. Sunglasses also can protect from the skin cancers that commonly develop on the eyelids.

Surfers, fishermen, farmers, golfers and others who spend a lot of time in the sun and wind sometimes develop growths on front surface of their eyes that can be irritating and unsightly, or eventually grow to block vision. These are called “pterygium” (singular) and “pterygia” (plural).

I strongly recommend the use of sunglasses with children, especially when they are at the beach or in other bright sunlight; though, sun damage can also occur in the shade.

Allergies

Many people experience the itchy eyes associated with allergies. Here in Delaware, allergies are prevalent in the fall and spring, as well as in the summer. While it’s a good idea to avoid the woods or grasses that may be causing your allergies, we often cannot do that, especially those of us who love being in the outdoors.

Allergy medications taken by mouth can be very effective for itchy eyes. Artificial tears can be used to flush out allergens and feel especially soothing when they have been refrigerated. Over-the-counter allergy drops work well to quiet down any remaining itchiness, but be careful to avoid redness-relief drops. These tend to cause a rebound effect and make the eyes more irritated than before.

For those who wear contact lenses, remember to throw away any lenses that have been worn in swimming pools, oceans, rivers, and hot tubs. You should consider wearing daily disposable lenses if it is important to you to wear contacts when you are in the water. Disinfectant solution is not effective against blinding microorganisms found in untreated water that bind to the lens and would normally be rinsed away.

Traumatic eye injury

Workplace safety education and government regulations keep us focused on wearing protective eye gear when using hazardous chemicals or equipment on the job. However, nearly half of all eye injuries occur outside of job-related functions. So, definitely, think about protecting your eyes when you are doing an activity that may cause flying objects or projectiles. Those activities might include cutting tree limbs, spraying weed killer, or even cleaning windows in your house. We need to think about our children’s eyes, too. Does your lawn mower kick up pebbles and throw out grass? If so, your children should not be with you when you are mowing. When you are frying food in the kitchen, do you make sure that you children are not in range of splattering oil?

What if you get an eye injury?

If the eyes only are injured, try calling your eye doctor first before going to a hospital emergency room. The eye doctor may be able to fit in an emergency and he or she may be better equipped to help you than an emergency medicine doctor. However, never delay emergency eye care if the eye doctor is unavailable. The Emergency Department at Beebe Healthcare is always open and has eye doctors on call.

If you get any chemical splashed into your eyes, immediately rinse them out with eye wash or water. Do not delay as it is critical to dilute the chemical, even before seeking medical attention so that more damage is not done. Use large quantities of water to flush the eye for at least 15 minutes. Consider using a low-pressure hose or even getting into the shower. However, if you do that, don’t waste time by undressing first.

We only have one set of eyes and we need to protect them. Don’t forget to get your regular eye checkups that screen for a number of diseases.

Karen Rudo, MD, is an ophthalmologist. She is a member of the Beebe Medical Staff and sees patients at Delaware Eye Clinic in Milton.