Longer term sun exposure speeds up the development of cataracts and macular degeneration in the eyes. TNS
It is still way too early to bid goodbye to harsh summer months ahead of us; and with the mercury soaring routinely to 50 degrees C and more, the threat this poses to eye health is real. The dry weather conditions, the extreme heat in the Middle Eastern summer can be unforgiving and relentless. It is therefore extremely important to take adequate precautions, even when cautiously enjoying outdoor summer activities.
Speaking to Panorama, Dr Avinash Gurbaxani, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Medical Retina & Uveitis Specialist, Moorfields Eye Hospital, Dubai stresses the importance of care of eyes during summer and ways to ensure constant protection.
How does exposure to sun affect the eyes?
Sun affects eyes the same way it affects the skin, through ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The sun being a powerful source of UV radiation can be detrimental to eye health if adequate care is not given to it. While eye damage from UV radiation is a cumulative process, even brief periods of sun exposure can be deleterious to eye health. With the heat outside and the air dry and warm, there is increased evaporation of tears; besides prolonged indoor time in an air-conditioned environment too can cause dry eye and ocular discomfort. Whilst sun exposure is an excellent source of vitamin D, not taking necessary protective measures during summer can have lasting damaging effects on the eyes.
What eye issues are most prevalent during Middle Eastern summers?
Dry eye, conjunctivitis and allergic eye condition are common summer related eye issues that can be induced by arid climates, overexposure to air conditioning, dust and sandstorms as well as too much exposure to the sun and ultraviolet rays.
Longer term sun exposure speeds up the development of cataracts and macular degeneration. Macula is a central part of the retina at the back of the eye, which gives us the ability to have the perfect, coloured vision. Cataracts can be treated by surgery whereas macular degeneration may need regular monitoring and localised eye treatments.
How can eyes be kept healthy during summer?
The key to maintaining optimal eye health in summer is to stay hydrated. Considering that the summer heat can make us lose body fluids through sweat, we need to drink more water to compensate for this loss to avoid dehydration, a leading cause of dry eye and irritation. Also, if you drink diuretics such as coffee, consider drinking at least 2 litres of water per day.
Protecting your eyes from the sun can significantly reduce summer-related eye issues. Therefore, using a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to shield your eyes while you are in the sun is paramount.
Is it right that we need to wear sunglasses even when it is cloudy?
Yes, it is imperative to protect your eyes on a cloudy day because clouds cannot completely block the sun's UV rays, leaving your eyes at risk for UV exposure and sunburns.
It is important to note that water and sand can reflect sunlight into your eyes as well, making sunglasses the best choice for eye protection. We recommend wearing medical grade tinted glasses that can block up to 100% of the sun’s UV radiation during summer.
Can eyes get sunburned?
Absolutely! Eyes can be "sunburned" in a condition called photokeratitis. This commonly leads to urgent medical visits because of severe eye pain and abrupt onset of symptoms.
Luckily, it is typically self-limiting and resolves without permanent blindness, but any significant eye problem should always be evaluated by an eye doctor to accurately diagnose and treat the issue.
What protection should one use while swimming?
Swimming is perhaps the most popular summer activity; however, it can also be the most damaging. We advise to always wear swimming goggles in the pool or at the beach because the pools are often disinfected with harsh sanitisers such as chlorine, and beach water is full of salt, which can also dry out the eyes.
Additionally, pool or beach water is home to many microbes such as Acanthamoeba, which can result in infections in the eye and serious complications. Thus, using goggles can protect your eyes and reduce the likelihood of contracting an eye infection such as conjunctivitis or develop dry eye syndrome during summer.
Do not wear contact lenses whilst swimming in pools or in the sea. Prescription goggles are a better option. As mentioned earlier, the most common eye problems related to sun exposure are cataracts and macular degeneration. Although cataracts can be removed with surgery, macular degeneration is permanent and often quite a debilitating condition.
What is the most effective treatment for eye related conditions?
The best and most immediate way to address eye dryness is by using sterile lubricating eye drops to alleviate and prevent eye issues during the hot months and this will keep the eyes moist and refreshed.
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