Summertime means long days spent outdoors, but your skin isn’t the only body part in need of protection from all that fun in the sun. According to Frederick Fraunfelder, MD, MBA, Chairman and Roy E. Mason and Elizabeth Patee Mason Distinguished Professor of Ophthalmology, the biggest dangers to eye health during the summer months are UVA and UVB light.
“The main things we worry about with UV light are the potential for causing cataracts in the human eye and potential for eye cancers on the surface of the eye,” Fraunfelder said. “You can get melanoma and carcinoma on your skin, but you can also get those on your eye.”
Burns to the cornea of the eye from UV light are another concern. These burns show up as tiny dots, known as punctate epithelial erosions (PEE), on the cornea, or the surface of the eye, and are caused by UV light exposure.
“It can make vision blurry, eyes red and be quite painful,” Fraunfelder adds.
So how do you protect your eyes without missing all the fun? Fraunfelder offers the following tips to help keep your eyes healthy, comfortable and safe this summer.
“Wear UV light-blocking sunglasses, hats and sunscreen,” Fraunfelder said. “You don’t have to be like that 24 hours a day — sun exposure in moderation is good — but you do want to use a hat and sunglasses when you’re out it the sun for extended periods of time.”
Also, keep in mind that being in or around the pool, lake or ocean isn’t a free pass to leave hats and sunglasses behind, as UV light reflects off the water. “You can get damage from UV light from not wearing sunglasses during watersports,” Fraunfelder adds.
Invest in good sunglasses
“Like most things in life, you get what you pay for,” Fraunfelder said. “The main brands that have UVA- and UVB-blocking properties have to prove that through the manufacturing process, and it definitely makes a difference in the quality of the glasses and how much protection they offer.”
Use over-the-counter medication for itchy eyes
Allergies are common in the summer months, and they’re especially bad when the wind is blowing, causing pollen and allergens to blow into the eyes. At minimum, Fraunfelder recommends taking an over-the-counter oral medication to treat itchy allergy eyes.
“The oral medication is doing the same thing for your eyes that it does for the rest of your body,” he says. “Over-the-counter eye drops and artificial tears can be a great help, too.”
Beware of flying objects
“Flying projectiles are the enemy of the eye,” Fraunfelder says. “Summer is a popular time for throwing around footballs, baseballs, sometimes even lighting fireworks. You’ve got to wear eye protection.”
Fraunfelder recommends polycarbonate shatterproof lenses, available at most home improvement stores. Polycarbonate sports goggles are also available.
When in doubt, visit the eye doctor
According to Fraunfelder, there are two main things he and his colleagues get concerned about when it comes to eye health: vision and pain.
“If vision is blurry, and it’s not getting better for a few hours or more, we’d like to see you,” he says. “If you have pain that isn’t going away or itching that isn’t going away, we can help you.”
Both Mizzou Optical and Mizzou Optical East offer a wide selection of frames and lenses, including prescription and non-prescription sunglasses for children and adults, polycarbonate lenses and sports goggles. All University of Missouri employees receive a 20 percent discount off their purchase.