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Vanderbilt ophthalmologist stresses summer eye safety

Jul. 17, 2013, 9:06 AM

Vanderbilt experts suggest parents start early in establishing healthy eye care routines for their children, including babies who also need to wear sunglasses with UV protection.

When it comes to damaging sun rays, skin protection is a top priority for many. But there is another area that needs to be brought into focus – the eyes.

Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light can damage the eyes, said Daniel Weikert, M.D., assistant professor of Clinical Ophthalmology at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute (VEI), and outdoor summer activities increase the likelihood of eye injuries.

“We strongly encourage patients to wear sunglasses and hats as well as apply sunscreen around the eyes in order to provide as much protection as they can against the damaging rays of the sun,” said Weikert.

“Prolonged exposure to sunlight on a daily basis is harmful and people need to take the proper precautions to protect themselves.”

VEI clinicians see a variety of cases resulting in overexposure to sun, including sunburned eyelids. UVA or UVB rays can also penetrate the eyes that can lead to the development of cataracts and macular degeneration. Other eye problems caused by extended UV exposure include corneal burns and a more severe condition called Ptergygium, which can result in vision loss.

Although these conditions are most frequently seen in populations exposed to high levels of sun over a long period of time, including house painters, gardeners, farmers and lifeguards, not all eye injuries are cumulative.

“When people are at the pool, beach or lakes, the water can intensify the light,” said Weikert. “Wearing something that produces a shadow like a hat or using an umbrella to shield the face is an important tool in reducing the effects of the harmful rays. Utilizing proper safety goggles is also highly recommended, especially for skiers and water sports enthusiasts.”

Protective eyewear is important, not only to shield the eyes from sunlight exposure, but also during ordinary tasks like yard work or even playing summer sports.

“I cannot tell you how many tree branches and flying rocks or debris are the culprits of eye injuries,” he said. “We also see a lot of sport-related injuries that could have been prevented with the use of helmets and faceguards. Facial fractures can cause problems with vision.”

A child is never too young to learn about eye safety, Weikert stressed. He suggests parents start early in establishing healthy eye care routines for their children, including babies who also need to wear sunglasses with UV protection as well as hats with a brim to provide shading.

“The bottom line is – proper protection is the best defense against the sun’s damaging rays.”

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