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Sun, dry air, and chlorine: how to look after our eyes in summer

Summertime poses a challenge for our eyes due to external attacks of all kinds. These are our top tips for ocular wellbeing

Cuidar los ojos en verano
Two tourists wear sunglasses in front of the Roman Trevi Fountain.REMO CASILLI (REUTERS)

At this time of the year, our thoughts turn to the vacations we’re about to enjoy, whether it’s traveling abroad, heading to the beach, the mountains, or the countryside... But summer also brings specific risks that can affect the health of our eyes and ruin our days off work if we don’t take some basic precautions.

We all know that protecting our skin with the right protective sun creams whenever we’re exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays is essential. This is especially true in summer, when the sun is usually more intense and lasts more hours each day. But we don’t always pay the same attention to our eyesight.

More than a fashion accessory, sunglasses are a form of protecting our eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. In addition to our vision, we also should be taking care of the skin that surrounds our eyes, the most delicate skin on the whole body.

Suitable sunglasses

So, when choosing a pair of sunglasses, not only do we have to like how they look, but we must also keep an eye out for these three important features:

All three factors should always be marked on sunglasses, but only if they are good quality. That is why it’s important to buy them in places that offer that guarantee and have specialized staff capable of finding the appropriate filter for our needs. In other words, optical health establishments.

In addition, the type of protection required if we’re going to walk in the countryside isn’t the same needed for a day at the beach or for water sports. And finally, let’s not forget about our children’s eyes. They are more delicate than adults’ eyes and should be protected not only with a visors or caps, but with the right size sunglasses.

Air and dry eyes

To cope with the high temperatures of summer, look for places — at home, in the car, or in the restaurant — that have air conditioning or fans. These create currents of fresh air that feel great, but they also dry out the environment, and that includes the surface of our eyes.

Our eyes always need to be covered and moistened by tears in order to see well and avoid discomfort. It’s a good idea to sit far away or, at least, not to expose ourselves directly to the cold air outlets of air conditioners. This way we will avoid discomfort and grit that produce dry eyes and redness. This situation can be especially annoying if we wear contact lenses.

We can also feel uncomfortable outdoors in the high temperatures of summer — and even more so if the air is dry. We can try to relieve it with so-called artificial tears, or eye-drops. Moisturizers and lubricants don’t look much like natural tears, but they will help mitigate the discomfort. Their active ingredients, like hyaluronic acid (one of the most popular), create a thin layer of moisture that lasts for some time on the surface of the eye.

We can drop them in “on demand”, but the more we need them, the more important it is to choose products without preservatives. And people who wear contact lenses must make sure that the artificial tears are compatible with the material the lenses are made from, so that they don’t stain or color. In any case, the optometrist or pharmacist can recommend the most appropriate product.

Chlorine, salt, and the dangers of water

The ocean, rivers, and swimming pools present a significant risk of irritation or infection if water enters the eyes. That is why we must protect them from chlorine or salt, which cause itching, burning, or redness. And, from the microorganisms that can generate dangerous infections such as keratitis or viral or bacterial conjunctivitis.

The way to prevent it is not to duck our head or open our eyes underwater, and if we do, wear swimming or diving goggles. These must be approved for the activity being done and, if necessary, some even have corrective lenses.

What about contact lenses?

Contact lenses can pose an additional risk in summer. They must never be worn while swimming in the river, the pool, or the ocean. In fact, they shouldn’t be worn in any situation in which water can get into the eye, including taking a shower.

Irritants, such as chlorine or salt, and microorganisms present in the water can become trapped in the lens or between the lens and the eye, causing greater or more lasting discomfort and increasing the risk of infection.

One of the most dangerous pathogens is the protozoan Acanthamoeba, which is frequently found in water. Ninety percent of the (fortunately few) cases in which infections occur, affect people who wear contact lenses, especially soft ones, and who haven’t followed the proper use and hygiene advice.

So, it’s best to go to the beach or pool without contact lenses altogether. Wear prescription glasses instead — or don’t — but always wear suitable eye protection, either for protection from the sun’s rays or for swimming, if we want to see what is under the water. Keeping our delicate eyes safe should always be a priority, and especially in summer.

Sara Bueno Fernández is director and adjunct professor of the degree in Optics and Optometry, CEU San Pablo University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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