BY GUY FIORITA
Seasonal Eye Care Tips
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than 20 million Americans suffer from severe vision loss. Many of the causes are environmentally related.
In Wisconsin, each season brings its own threats to our eye health: spring pollen, summer sun, fall’s dry indoor heating and winter’s treacherous snow glare. Fortunately, there are simple steps to ensure eyes remain healthy and reduce the chance of vision loss in the future. Local eyecare practitioners weigh in on what you need to know to protect your vision as the seasons change.
In spring, climbing temps, budding trees and blooming plants warm winter weary souls, but also prove tough on the eyes. Eye drops and quality eyewear are key in keeping baby blues (and browns and greens) healthy and comfortable.
“Spring usually means we increase our time outdoors,” says Christina Petrou, O.D., of Petrou Eye Care. “It also brings with it a wave of allergies, which can have an impact on the condition of our eyes. Spring air contains pollen and dust, both easily caught by the mucosa of the eye. If you get something in your eye, don’t rub [the object] out. You should rinse your eyes with warm water. Fluctuating temperatures and spring wind can also irritate sensitive eyes, especially if we’ve had a long, hard winter. Protect your eyes with only the best prescription sunglasses and lubricant eye drops.”
Allergies are especially problematic in springtime, adds Brent Rhode, M.D., of Eye Care Specialists.
“Spring brings with it a host of vision setbacks, including red, watery or itchy eyes; difficulty focusing; and discomfort wearing contact lenses,” he explains. “[Sufferers] often have a history of hay fever or other allergic problems, whereby certain particles in the air [pollen, animal hair, dust or molds] can cause specific eye cells to release allergy activators such as histamine. These activators then create symptoms of irritation. Fortunately, these symptoms are usually treatable. If simple steps like avoiding peak pollen hours outside, showering frequently and keeping your hands away from your eyes after gardening don’t fully do the trick, your eye care specialist can help you determine which over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine eye drops might be best for you. These include drops to relieve symptoms and more potent formulas that block allergy activators from even being released. To prevent side effects, you should only use these medicines under a doctor’s supervision.”
Good quality sunglasses are a year-round essential, but they’re especially important in summer, when outdoor activities fill Wisconsinites’ calendars.
The Eyes Have It
Sources: The Canadian Association of Optometrists,VSP Vision Care
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, sunglasses not only delay the development of cataracts, they also prevent retinal damage and protect the delicate eyelid skin from skin cancer around the eye and growths on the eye itself. Before you buy, make sure the sunglasses block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Larger lenses and wraparound styles offer greater protection, but the color and darkness of those lenses have little impact.
“Studies show that long-term exposure to the sun’s UV rays without protection may contribute to the development of various eye disorders, including macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts,” says Eye Care Specialists’ Mark Freedman, M.D. “The more exposure to bright light, the greater the risk of visual impairment and blindness. In addition to long-term UV-light exposure, you also need to protect your eyes from severe damage caused by single outings on very bright days when UV-light reflected off sand, snow or pavement can damage the eye’s surface. Similar to sunburns, these surface burns usually disappear within a couple of days; however, they may lead to further complications later in life. From childhood on, make it a habit to wear UV-protective sunglasses and a hat or visor whenever you’re outside for a prolonged period, even if it’s gray and overcast.”
Eye protection in the water isn’t just for the pros, adds Dr. Rhode.
“Before jumping into the water, pop on a pair of swimming goggles,” he says. “Chlorine [in pools] can make your eyes red and puffy, and ponds and lakes may have bacteria that can get underneath contact lenses and cause potentially blinding damage to the cornea. In fact, the best policy is to never wear contacts while swimming.”
According to Dr. Petrou, come fall, it takes two hard frosts to bring an end to pollen-related miseries. Prescription or over-the-counter eye drops, cold compresses, protective sunglasses and giving eyes a break from contact lenses can help keep the autumn months safe and comfortable. “Contact lenses in winter can be a huge challenge for people with dry eye syndrome, so single-use contact lenses are the best for sensitive eyes,” Petrou explains.
“In autumn, parents should consider adding eye exams to their back-to-school checklist,” adds Eye Care Specialists’ Michael Raciti, M.D. “It is estimated that 80 percent of learning happens visually for most children. Unfortunately, though, one in 20 preschoolers and five in 20 school-aged children have an eye problem, and some of these problems can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated. Annual physicals and school screenings may catch the need for glasses, but they aren’t usually equipped to detect vision-threatening problems of the retina, optic nerve and eye muscles.”
Winter means more time spent indoors. To avoid indoor allergens that can damage the eye, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says it’s key to reduce our exposure to dust mites and molds. In the bedroom, this means using mite-proof mattress covers and pillowcases, and washing your bedding frequently in hot water at least 130 degrees. To limit exposure to mold, keep the humidity in your home low, ideally between 30 and 50 percent. Use a dehumidifier if necessary, and if you do find mold, a thorough cleaning with a solution of bleach and ammonia-free household cleaner should do the trick (see the Wisconsin Department of Health web site for
And when you are outside, keep those shades at the ready.
“When driving, the winter angle of sunlight coupled with leafless trees and reflected light from snow, salty windshields and ice actually creates more glare than summer sun, so remember to wear sunglasses in the winter too,” says Dr. Petrou. MKE