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Poolside Eye Safety

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Summer is upon us, and with it all of the fun summer activities we get to enjoy with family and friends. One activity that is particularly popular during these hot summer months is swimming. While it’s fun spending time poolside, swimming pools are the culprit for numerous eye infections, irritations and sunburns each year.

Here are some helpful tips to keep your eyes safe, while still allowing you to have fun at the pool.

Cover Your Eyes Poolside with Appropriate UV Protection

Sunlight reflects off of water, sand and cement, increasing your exposure to UV rays. For this reason, it is important you keep your eyes protected with sunglasses that block 100% of harmful UV rays. A wide brimmed hat is also beneficial to keep the sunlight off your face. 

UV radiation builds up over your lifetime and is linked to several eye diseases such as cataracts, macular degeneration, pingueculae and pterygiums. In addition, short term exposure to intense sunlight can lead to a sunburn of the eye (photokeratitis), which can be painful and temporarily decrease your vision.

It is important to know that all sunglasses are not created equal. The majority of sunglasses that are purchased from retail stores, convenience stores or dollar stores offer a UV coating that degrades extremely quickly. When this coating is no longer present, it is MORE harmful for you to wear the sunglasses than not. Why? Because when your eye is behind these dark lenses your pupils dilate, which allows more of the harmful UV rays to enter the eye, thus leading to more damage. It is important that you purchase your sunglasses from a reputable optometry office as we only offer sunglasses with high quality UV protection that does not diminish over time.

Polarized sunglasses are particularly beneficial for individuals who enjoy being in or around the water. Light travels in waves, meaning that it vibrates. Normally, light vibrates in various and multiple directions. However, when light reflects off of a horizontal surface, such as water, it only vibrates in one direction – horizontally. This process is called polarization. Because the light is vibrating in this one direction, it becomes more concentrated and hits the eye more directly. This is often noticed as glare.

Polarized lenses are manufactured to filter light out. However, these filters are only applied vertically. So, vertical light can continue to travel through the lens, but the horizontal light reflecting off of surfaces can’t. As a result, this reduces glare, improves clarity, reduces fatigue or eye strain due squinting in response to glare, and may portray colours more accurately. The reduction of glare also allows you to see below the water’s surface to a better degree.

The difference between polarized and non-polarized sunglasses is the way in which they impact glare. While non-polarized glasses are also designed to reduce the intensity of light while providing adequate UV protection, their filters work the same way for all types of sunlight, no matter which direction the light is vibrating. Consequently, glare still reaches the eyes with more intensity. So, if you find yourself squinting a lot, even when you’re wearing sunglasses, consider polarized sunglasses as you may find them more comfortable.

Do Not Wear Contact Lenses for Water Activities

Contact lenses should never be worn in or around the water. They can trap bacteria and microscopic organisms found in water inside your eye, resulting in irritation or blinding eye infections. Acanthamoeba present in water, (even if the water is chlorinated or safe to drink or bathe in), can cause an eye infection that can result in blindness within 24 hours. 

In addition to the dangers of bacteria, chlorine and other contaminants will bind onto contact lenses, and certain chemicals cannot be cleaned off or disinfected properly. Prescription swimming goggles are available and are a much safer option compared to contact lenses.

Wear Goggles
 Swimming goggles are beneficial even for those who have no vision problems or no prescription. They protect the eyes from organisms present in water and chemical irritants (such as chlorine). As a result, your eyes will feel much better after swimming because the have not been exposed to the water or chemicals.

In particular, children benefit greatly from swimming goggles. It is not uncommon to see children with viral conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) following swimming in public pools.

Keep your eyes safe this summer while you enjoy the outdoors!

Written by Dr. Melissa Bussey

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