It's probably not the first thing on your mind during this season of fun and sun, but summer is also a time when eye doctors see a spike in eye injuries.
"People are outside, working in their yards, barbecuing, swimming, playing games, spending hours in the sun—all situations that can lead to a trip to the doctor," says John A. Moran Eye Center optometrist Robert H. Corry, OD. "Whether it's from flying objects, extreme glare, or bacteria in water—you name it—we've treated a related eye injury or condition. That's the bad news. The good news is, most of these injuries are preventable."
- Always wear good quality eye protection and keep the kids at a safe distance when mowing the lawn, trimming hedges, snapping branches, chopping wood, or hammering on hard objects. All can create high-velocity projectiles from debris—basically, little missiles aiming right for your eyes or at a bystander. Look for glasses, goggles, or a face shield that says "ANSI Z87.1" on the lens or frame. That's your assurance that the protective eyewear meets basic safety standards set by the American National Standards Institute. Their website gives details on ratings for different types of eyewear, depending on your needs.
- If you wear contact lenses, take them out before swimming, and wear swim goggles to protect your eyes. Those who wear contact lenses are especially susceptible to water-borne eye infections, as the lenses can trap bacteria and other irritants. Even chlorinated swimming pools can contain microorganisms that can cause eye infections. Lakes and other non-chlorinated areas may be full of bacteria, including an invisible villain that causes Acanthamoeba keratitis, an intense, difficult-to-treat infection that can cause permanent visual impairment or even blindness.
- Random events can turn into tragedies if you're not paying attention. For instance, be aware that bungee cords tying down luggage or camping equipment can—and do—snap and hit people in the eye. So don't rush it or leave packing or unpacking with bungee cords to the kids.
- You know the sun can burn your shoulders, but did you know it can also burn your corneas (the clear, protective outer layer of the eye)? And when it does, the result is excruciatingly painful. Avoid the risk by wearing UV-blocking sunglasses and a hat—even on cloudy days. Buy glasses labeled either "UV400" or "100% UV Protection." If you're going to be around water, polarized lenses are especially good for blocking glare.
- Watch out for poison ivy and oak and if you touch it, or it gets around your eyes, keep your hands away from your face and wash them immediately.
- No matter how careful you are, your eyes may still get red and irritated by dust, wind, sun—whatever elements come your way. In that case, use artificial tears, not anti-redness drops to soothe them.
"Prevention is what it's all about," says Dr. Corry. "We'd rather have you enjoy a safe summer than make an unscheduled visit to your eye doctor—but do make sure you keep up with your scheduled eye exams."