Summer activities mean more time outside, but some can pose potential hazards to eye safety. Baylor ophthalmologist Dr. Masih Ahmed urges everyone to protect their eyes outdoors.
Ahmed recommends wearing goggles for swimming, especially when putting your head underwater. Lakes, oceans or any outdoor body of water (including chlorinated swimming pools that are well-maintained) can contain contaminants like bacteria and fungi. Watertight goggles shield the eyes from potential infection.
“There’s risk of different microorganisms, specifically one that is difficult to treat called acanthamoeba, which is a parasite that can cause eye infections,” he said.
A body of water or pool that is outside, especially a still body of water, can have different types of microorganisms living in them. Ahmed cautions swimmers to not open eyes underwater to block contaminants entering the eye. If water gets in, use saline or sterile water to flush out the eyes.
“The eye is not great at fighting off different types of infections because it doesn’t have available blood supply to it,” Ahmed said. “If you have scratches in the cornea, which can happen from dry eye or even rubbing your eye, one of those microorganisms can get into those cuts and lead to infection.”
Refrain from wearing contact lenses underwater. Contact lenses absorb water and hold onto harmful microorganisms that cause infection. Contacts cause micro-abrasions in the eye, which facilitate eye infections. While there are no specific contact lenses safe for water, prescription goggles are available. If you must wear contacts while swimming, wear daily, disposable contacts so you can dispose of them right after getting out of the water.
“In the summer, we see an uptick in people who wear contacts coming in with eye infections. They can trap water underneath them, and that water might have bacteria and amoeba that cause infection in the eye,” Ahmed said.
Ultraviolet (UV) light is harmful to the eye and can cause early cataracts, eyelid cancer or worsened macular degeneration. Ahmed often sees patients with pterygium, a growth that forms on the eye as a result of sun exposure. When choosing the right sunglasses, make sure the lenses are 100% UV blocking, ideally wrapping around the face to avoid light protruding from the sides. UV-blocking sunglasses with full coverage over the eyes is key.
Polarized lenses block the direction of light, cutting the glare. While polarization is not a must, the lenses help with intense bright light and glare. This can be helpful with water activities like sailing and fishing.
In warm temperatures where sweating is inevitable, find a sunscreen that does not run when you sweat to avoid getting it into the eyes. If sunscreen gets in your eye, rinse it out with sterile saline or fresh water to irrigate it. The irrigation process might be uncomfortable, but it will help wash out the sunscreen.
Wear eye protection like goggles when mowing the lawn or doing yard work to prevent pebbles or thorns hitting the eye. Plants have toxins that can irritate the eye, so wash your hands after gardening.
Learn more about Baylor Medicine eye care.
By Homa Shalchi