What are you doing to protect your eyes this summer? While we all pull out the hats and sunscreen, our eyes are often neglected. Summer happens fast in Alberta, and we need to be ready to take full advantage of the great outdoors. With increased daylight hours, we tend to spend lots of time outside and that means an increase in sun exposure and ultraviolet (UV) exposure to our eyes. When our eyes are unprotected, UV rays can increase the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye diseases, including cancer. Fortunately, protection is easy and accessible with the use of sunglasses and many other types of safety eyewear.
Here are the top 8 things you can do to improve eye safety and eye health this summer.
- Consider Polarized and Transition Lens
Polarized lenses dampen the glare of reflected light that may cause eye fatigue. Glare from light reflected off water or other vehicles while driving is most common. This dampening effect of a polarized lens can be a great advantage. Sunglasses with polarized lenses are a good choice when you spend time at the pool or beach, playing water sports, or driving.
Transition or photo-greying lenses automatically darken as natural lighting levels increase, reacting to the UV light in sunlight. The benefit of this lens type is that you don’t have to change glasses when going from indoors to outdoors. The disadvantage is the lenses take a minute to change making things very bright when you first go outdoors into the sun and very dark when you first return indoors. Transition lenses may not be the best choice for all safety eyewear applications.
- Slip on a hat
A wide brimmed hat is not only a fashion statement it adds an important barrier between you and the sun’s UV rays. Shading your face from the strong summer sun protects from many potential issues including reducing your overall eye exposure to the sun.
- Get the coverage
Sunglasses are a must for family members of all ages – especially children. Large, oversized sunglasses have become stylish again, and they also provide your eyes with more protection. Wrap around sunglasses are closer fitting and provide good UV protection. Be sure to choose glasses that are labelled UV400 or 100% UV protection. This will ensure both the UV-A and UV-B spectrum are blocked. Research¹ says only about half of the people wearing sunglasses check the UV rating before purchasing.
The preferred choice in lens colour is a grey lens with a tint appropriate for the work conditions. Lens tints are measured by the amount of light they absorb or block. A high tint means a large percentage of the incident light is absorbed by the lens. The choices of lens tints in all safety eyewear ranges from almost clear to very dark. Standard sunglasses have light tint of around 50-80%. A high-altitude mountaineer might use a lens with a dark tint of 90-95%. Although there will be some variation in the description of a lens and the associated lens tints here is a general guide:
- 50-80 % tint: Typical sunglass lens tint that is good for all-purpose use outdoors.
- 81-95% tint: Dark lens tint is good for very bright, very sunny conditions.
Anything less than 50% tint should be avoided for outdoor summer use.
- Use Swim Goggles
Swim goggles reduce exposure to the chlorine in pool water and bacteria and other microorganisms in lake and river water. Make sure your goggles have UV protection because time in the water increases exposure to reflected sunlight. You can get prescription goggles and tinted googles to improve performance and protection. Some swim goggles also come with polarized lenses – a great idea for those who spend a lot of time in the water.
- Avoid the Peak hours
The peak UV hours are typically between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. That is when the intensity of the sun is strongest. If you can avoid the sun during these times, it will help to reduce your overall direct and indirect exposure.
- Dry eye protection
During summer, dehydration can be a real concern. Proper hydration is essential to protect your eyes, as dehydration makes it more difficult for the body to produce tears. That means you may experience dry eyes and minor vision problems. Beat the heat by actively maintaining hydration to alleviate eye dryness and improve overall health. Carrying appropriate eye drops to help rinse the eye for those prone to dry eyes is a good idea. Summertime may also be a trigger for those with seasonal allergies to things like dust and pollen.
Eyedrops can help manage symptoms, however, consult with your optometrist to discuss which eye drops are best suited to your needs – eye drops are not all created equal.
- Nutrition Matters
Summertime provides access to a broad range of locally grown fruits and vegetables. Those that are rich in antioxidants and essential nutrients, like fish, lean meats, dark greens, nuts, legumes, eggs, and others, are important for good eye health and will help to prevent the development of vision problems and ocular diseases later in life. These nutrient rich foods support your eye health and help prevent the development of long-term vision problems.
- Get your rest
The daylight hours are long and so are the choices of activities. Remember, good health, and that includes eye health, requires you get enough rest. Fatigue leads to decreased cognition on visual tasks. Reduced visual acuity creates an added risk when driving or doing other potentially higher risk work. Also, when you are tired your eyes are more likely to feel dry. This encourages you to rub your eyes to stimulate the lacrimal gland, which increases the likelihood of exposure to irritants and diseases. The best way you can keep yourself alert and safe is to aim for a full night of sleep every night.
Summertime is fun time, and you can make the most of your time outdoors with just a few simple precautions: wear UV protective eyewear and a hat; enjoy good foods that help maintain eye health; stay hydrated; and get lots of rest. Remember to take a few minutes and book your annual eye exam. Your sight is a gift that deserves protecting!
¹American Academy of Ophthalmology
Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 35 years of experience. He is a regular safety conference speaker in Canada, and he provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s OHS certificate and diploma programs.