Caring for your Eyes this Summer

Long-term exposure to sunlight without protection can lead to yellow growths called pinguecula and pterygia develop on the front of our eyes. As well as being unsightly, these 'defence mechanisms' the body has developed against the elements can cause red, gritty, irritable and sometimes painful eyes. In some cases, these growths can grow onto the clear cornea, threatening vision and needing surgical removal.

Scientific studies and research have shown that exposure to small amounts of UV radiation over a period of many years increases the chance of developing a cataract and may cause damage to the retina, the nerve-rich lining of the eye that is used for seeing. Additionally, chronic exposure to shorter wavelength visible light (i.e. blue and violet light) may also be harmful to the retina.

Eye professionals recommend wearing quality sunglasses that offer UV protection and wearing a hat or cap with a wide brim whenever you spend time outdoors. Also, certain contact lenses can provide additional UV protection.

To provide adequate protection for your eyes, sunglasses should:
1. Block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation;
2. Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light;
3. Be perfectly matched in colour and free of distortion and imperfection; and
4. Have lenses that don't alter colours for proper colour recognition.

If you spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight, wrap around frames can provide more protection from the harmful solar radiation.

Good quality spectacle lenses will cut out most of the harmful UV and additional coatings can be applied to add extra protection, especially when there is a history or risk of macular degeneration.

Don't forget protection for children and teenagers. They typically spend more time in the sun than adults. Some medications can also increase your sensitivity to UV radiation and require good eye protection. If you have had cataract surgery the intraocular lens implanted in your eye may not protect the retina as well as the human lens that was removed from your eye.

Be sure to see your optometrist or ophthalmologist at least every two years for a comprehensive eye examination. It is a good way to monitor your eye health, maintain good vision and keep track of your solar radiation protection needs, as well as find out about new advances in eye protection.

John Tarbutt
Tarbutt Optometrists, Cambridge