Seeing the Light (With Proper Eye Protection!)
You've heard that the eyes are “windows to the soul,” but did you know they are also windows to other aspects of your health? A comprehensive eye examination will not only check your vision and your eyes’ health, it will also reveal signs of other health issues, including hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, high cholesterol – even certain cancers.
Every member of your family should see an eye care professional annually to ensure that their eyes are healthy and that they can see as crisply and clearly as possible. However, eye exams are but one (important) piece of the overall puzzle: adults and children also need to take steps to protect their eyes from everyday threats such as the damaging rays of the sun, as well as eye-straining indoor light sources, including the digital devices we all rely on for work and entertainment, plus LED bulbs and TVs.
The Dangers of Sun Exposure
Repeated, unprotected exposure of the eyes to sunlight has many negative effects – even during Fall and Winter, when the sun sits lower in the sky and at a different angle than in the summer months (which renders cold-weather rays just as dangerous):
- Short term: risk of photokeratitis (corneal inflammation – like a "sunburn to the eye," a condition that occurs when the )
- Longer term: Retinal damage, increased risk of cataracts, pterygium (a growth in the corner of the eyes) and pinguecula (a lesion on the surface tissue of the white part of your eye)
- Over time, the very sensitive skin that surrounds your eyes will naturally get thinner, drier, and start to wrinkle. Ongoing exposure to the sun will accelerate this process, and can lead to skin cancer.
An annual eye exam will detect the above, and your optometrist can provide treatment options where available. To prevent sun damage, invest in a good pair of sunglasses (in your prescription if you need vision correction), with total UV protection. Quality sunwear will protect your eyes and should be worn all year round, even in overcast conditions and during months with fewer daylight hours. Ask your eye care professional about photochromic lenses (Transitions® are a popular brand) which are clear indoors and darken outside – like having two pairs of glasses in one! Polarized lenses are also a good choice to virtually eliminate glare, especially for those who spend a lot of time on or near water.
For those who enjoy winter sports: bear in mind that when you are skiing, or outside at higher elevations, UV exposure is even greater – at 5,000 feet, you will be exposed to 20 percent more radiation from the sun, so eye protection is essential. Your eye care provider can assist you with selecting the proper eyewear to optimize visibility while also protecting eyes from wind, blowing debris, snow and ice; this will decrease squinting (which contributes to wrinkles!) and also reduce evaporation of tears on the surface of the eye, resulting in less irritation and dryness.
Digital Eye Strain – A Growing Problem
With the prevalence of technology use by people of all ages, digital eye strain – which we go into more detail on here – is becoming a significant concern in the optometric community. Electronic devices – computers, tablets, and smartphones – emit High-Energy Visible (HEV) Blue Light, which can cause eye fatigue, blurred vision, headaches and sleep disruption in the short term, and possibly contribute to retinal damage over the long term. Children, as well as adults, are using digital screens more than ever nowadays, with average use estimated to be 6+ hours daily.
Ask your eye care practitioner about new lens technologies, including “blue defense” which alleviates eye strain by decreasing the amount of HEV blue light that reaches the eyes – and take steps to lessen your use of devices and get outside more (just don’t forget the sunglasses!).