With the onset of summer, our eyes are exposed to a variety of risks that should be prevented in order to avoid serious injuries. Agents such as chlorine from the swimming pool, sea salt, sand, strong winds or the sun are causes that threaten the condition of our eyes. These agents can alter the health of the conjunctiva (causing conjunctivitis), the cornea (causing keratitis), the crystalline lens (altering its transparency and leading to cataracts) and the retina (burns can be irreversible and damage vision). Dr. Jordi Gatell , head of the ICR Cornea Department, tells us what we can do to take care of them during this time of the year.
How to protect your eyes from the sun?
Dr. Gatell explains it is important that, throughout the year, but especially during the summer, we protect our eyes from the sun’s rays with hats and sunglasses with UV-approved glasses. Not all glasses are properly approved and do not have ultraviolet protection. For this reason, he highlights a series of tips to bear in mind when buying sunglasses and insists that, when in doubt, an ophthalmologist should be consulted to advise us on the best option:
- The most important thing is that they must be CE-approved. In addition, they must bear the ISO EN 1836:1997 marking and must provide 100% protection against ultraviolet radiation (UV marking).
- Glasses should be purchased in specialized establishments and be careful especially with glasses that are not optical, because they may be fakes to which a false label has been added. Wearing sunglasses without a UV filter is even more harmful than not wearing them at all, since they are dark and prevent pupil contraction, which allows greater penetration of UV rays, thus favoring greater potential damage.
- Eyewear should always be chosen according to the activity that will be carried out when using them. If we choose, for example, glasses that are too dark, we may not be able to use them for driving.
- The level of protection, which ranges from 0 to 4, must be taken into account. Protection level 4 glasses block a higher percentage of light. This should not be confused with the UV filter, which should always be 100%.
- Special care must be taken when buying sunglasses for children because, due to their age, their eyes are more permeable to light. A much higher percentage of UVA and UVB rays penetrate the eyes of the youngest children compared to those of adults. There are glasses with quality filters of all morphologies and at affordable prices that can adequately protect children’s eyes.
- When wearing prescription glasses, it is advisable to first discuss the prescription with the optician and choose the lenses before choosing a frame. When looking for sunglasses, we always want them to look good on our face, be fashionable, etc., but not all prescription lenses are suitable for all frames. Usually these cannot be too curved.
How to protect the eyes from chlorine?
Dr. Gatell explains that repeated exposure of the tear film layer to chlorine and other chemicals used in swimming pools could weaken it. This would leave the eye more unprotected and cause redness due to irritation of the cornea and conjunctiva, as well as other eye disorders, such as dry eye or blurred vision. Therefore, he emphasizes that it is important to follow a series of tips when going to the swimming pool:
- You should wear swimming goggles. Goggles prevent our eyes from coming into contact with the pool water, which contains chlorine and other substances that could be harmful. They should be worn for as long as possible during swimming.
- Do not open your eyes under water. If you do not have goggles, it is not recommended to open your eyes for a long time under water, as direct contact with chlorine could irritate the eye and lead to eye infections.
- The eyes should be washed after bathing. It is advisable to wash the face and eyes with fresh water after getting out of the pool, to eliminate the chemical substances in the area behind the eye (eyelid and eyelashes).
- It is recommended to use eye drops. These drops can be used to lubricate the eyes to keep the ocular surface hydrated.
- Do not share towel. To avoid infections, it is better not to share the towel with other people.
- After eye surgery, consult a specialist before going to the swimming pool.
- It is important to stay hydrated. It is recommended to drink water to ensure good hydration of the eyes.
In case of symptoms such as red eye, itching, stinging, tearing and photosensitivity, it is advisable to visit an ophthalmologist for an examination and to establish the most appropriate treatment.
What to consider if you wear contact lenses?
If wearing contact lenses, Dr. Gatell explains that it is very important to avoid using them in the water, whether in the sea or in the swimming pool, since in that situation the eyes are more exposed to microbial contamination, both from bacteria and viruses and from amoebae. “An infection caused by amoebae can be very serious and can cause ulcerations that are difficult to heal, lead to significant visual loss and even require a corneal transplant,” explains Dr. Gatell.
The doctor also points out that one of the most important causes of infection or corneal ulcer is the improper use of contact lenses and reminds us that they are still a foreign body, which must be controlled and cared for to prevent the substances and germs with which they come into contact from causing an infection.
In addition, it should not be forgotten that the heat, the chemical substances contained in swimming pool water and sea salt often cause conjunctivitis and irritative keratitis during this time of the year, which can later become viral or bacterial when in contact with sea water or swimming pools where these pathogens may be present. These can manifest with symptoms such as reddening of the eyes, stinging, burning, foreign body sensation, hypersensitivity to light or tearing. For this reason, Dr. Gatell reminds us that in the event of any symptom that concerns us, we should consult our specialist of reference or go to the ophthalmologic emergency department, since early diagnosis of a possible corneal infection can be essential to avoid permanent loss of vision.