As we head into the warm summer months, we find ourselves spending more time outside. Although the sunshine means we get to relax in the sun and enjoy outdoor summer activities, it’s not all fun and games when it comes to our eye health.
During the summer, we are exposed to an increased amount of UV radiation, putting us at risk of developing serious vision problems.
While sunburns are visible and can be easily identified, internal eye damage can often go undetected, putting our vision at risk. This is especially dangerous for children.
"Children are exposed to a lot more UV radiation than adults because they spend so much time outside," says Dr. Mark Ross of Eye Spy Optometry. "That exposure adds up over time, and can lead to problems such as cataracts, damage to the cornea and degeneration of the retina."
The sun produces three types of radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC. Luckily, the Earth’s atmosphere protects us against UVC and some UVB rays. The bad news is that too much exposure to UVA and UVB radiation can be dangerous to our eyes, and has been associated with the development of skin cancers, including the skin around the eyes.
"Some people may not realize that UV damage is cumulative," says Dr. Ross. "So the longer your eyes are overexposed to UV radiation, the more damage they will suffer over time. That’s why it’s so important to take precautions early in life."
It may be impossible to protect your children’s eyes 100 per cent of the time, especially when you aren’t with them, but there are some simple steps that will help.
To ensure your children are prepared to enjoy their summer camps and outdoor activities safely, Dr. Ross recommends four important summer vision tips:
1. Make sure they have close-fitting sunglasses that protect both the skin around the eye, as well as the eye itself. Not all sunglasses completely block out the sun’s radiation, which is why it’s important to get sunglasses that provide 100 per cent protection against UVA and UVB rays.
2. Buy them a wide-brimmed hat to ensure the entire eye is being completely shaded.
3. Educate your children that although clouds block out the sun’s light, clouds do not provide protection against UV radiation.
4. Teach your children to never look directly into or stare at the sun.
If your children experience eye pain, redness, tearing, blurred vision or swelling, they may be suffering from overexposure to UV radiation. Rather than waiting in an emergency room or doctor’s office, you can take them straight to your doctor of optometry. As a primary eye health care provider, your optometrist can diagnose, treat and help prevent UV damage and other eye-related health concerns.
"This is one example of why I like to see children once a year for comprehensive eye exams," says Dr. Ross. "The earlier we can catch a problem like UV damage, the more likely it is that we can treat it, and prevent vision loss down the road."
Alberta Health Care covers the cost of comprehensive eye exams for children under the age of 19 as well as medically necessary visits to your doctor of optometry. This includes eye infections or injuries, inflammation of the eyelid, foreign objects in your eye and sudden changes in vision.
Much like overexposure to UV radiation, there are many vision problems that can be easily prevented. If your children are educated at an early age about eye safety, they will be equipped for a lifetime of healthy vision.
Find out more about coverage and find a doctor of optometry near you at optometrists.ab.ca.
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