When summer finally arrives in Alberta, we’re ready to hit the beach and have some fun. Fact is, we take full advantage of a variety of outdoor activities, and with the increased daylight hours we tend to see a lot of sun – literally. And, that means an increase in ultraviolet (UV) exposure to our eyes.
When our eyes are unprotected, these 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.
What to look for
There are all types of stylish sunglasses, but not all provide sufficient 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. Don’t be fooled by the colour of the lens. Some people like dark tints, but the UV-blocking coating is the same on any colour lens. Research¹ says only about half of the people wearing sunglasses check the UV rating before purchasing. Don’t risk your vision, slide on UV protective eyewear and a hat, especially during the height of UV exposure in midday and the early afternoon.
Types of glasses
Wrap around style glasses provide greater UV protection against reflective water and sand. Be cautious of reflective surfaces especially if at higher altitude, hikers beware! Polarized lenses may be more comfortable, because they also block glare. UV resistant contact lenses alone do not provide sufficient protection, and sunglasses and hats should still be worn. Remember that cloudy or smoky skies do not protect against UV exposure, so take care even on overcast days.
What about your kids
Summertime means lots of outdoor time for children, too. Ensure they can make the most of the summer days by providing appropriate protection for all their outdoor activities. Children are especially susceptible to UV exposure, because the lens of a child’s eye can allow up to 70% more light in, which can lead to degenerative eye diseases later in life. Children don’t necessarily understand the danger of sun exposure, so ensure they are properly outfitted. Broad brimmed hats should be worn along with UV rated sunglasses that are comfortable so they can be worn throughout the day. Make swim time safe by providing goggles, which can protect the eyes from chlorine, pool chemicals, and irritants, allowing children to swim the days away.
Summertime provides access to a wealth of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Many of these foods are rich in antioxidants and essential nutrients that can improve eye health and help prevent the development of vision problems and ocular diseases later in life. These nutrient rich foods can improve your eyesight and help prevent the development of long-term vision problems. Eye healthy foods like lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants known to help delay the development of macular degeneration and cataracts. Take advantage of the season by selecting fresh foods high in vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc, such as broccoli and berries, which can help manage symptoms of age-related degeneration. Check out our eye healthy recipes.
Dry eye protection
During summer, dehydration is 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, and wrap around sunglasses can help prevent dryness for those prone to dry eyes. Summertime may be a trigger for those with seasonal allergies such as, 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.
Get your rest. Your eyes are counting on you. Fatigue leads to decreased cognition on visual tasks. This becomes an issue if you need visual acuity to drive safely or to do potentially higher risk work. 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.
Don’t’ forget to use eye protection for outdoor house work and yard maintenance. More of these outdoor activities can lead to rising incidents of corneal abrasions from dirt and dusts, foreign bodies entering the eye, and chemical irritants causing injury.
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. 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 more than 30 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.