Christine Bryant Times Correspondent
As summer draws to a close, many beachgoers and poolside loungers are trying to soak up as much sun as possible before the gloomy winter returns.
While sunscreen and oversized hats often accompany those looking to relax in the sun’s rays, valuable protection is often overlooked. And doctors say that this daytime accessory is needed all year round.
“Make sure you wear sunglasses with good quality lenses that are 100% UV protected,” said Dr Steven Levin of the Levin Eye Care Center in Whiting. “We are actually more exposed sometimes in the winter when the sun is lower and there are reflections on the snow.”
The sun can have adverse effects on a person’s eyes, with UV exposure causing corneal damage, cataracts and macular degeneration. Research has also linked sun exposure to melanoma of the eye, called intraocular melanoma, as well as squamous cell carcinoma of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the inside. eyelids.
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The most protective sunglasses block both UVA and UVB rays, says Dr. Nicole Albright, clinic director at Moses Eye Care Centers in northwest Indiana. UVB rays cause sunburn and play the biggest role in causing skin cancer. UVA rays can also cause skin cancer, but they penetrate deeper into the skin, often leading to premature aging of the skin.
To help combat winter glare, polarized sunglasses are coated with a chemical filter, she says.
Those who wear prescription glasses can choose an eyeglass lens material that blocks UV rays or add a photochromic lens option that turns the glasses into sunglasses when outdoors.
“A few select contact lenses contain UV protection,” Albright said. “Even if you wear them, it’s still important to wear sunglasses to protect the delicate skin around the eyes from UV rays.”
However, sun protection is just one of many things to consider when it comes to maintaining healthy eyes, says Albright.
“As they say, an ounce of prevention is better than cure,” she said. “In other words, routine eye wellness checkups are important for ensuring lifelong visual wellbeing. There are a multitude of systemic diseases that we can diagnose based on the symptoms that may appear in the eyes. “
Levin agrees on the need for regular eye exams.
“All patients are dilated here, and we look deep into the cornea down to the retina,” he said. “The reason we do this is that the retina receives all the light. It’s one of the few areas of the body that doesn’t have pain receptors, so if something happens there, you’ll never feel it.
Although vision loss could signal a problem in the retina, the damage was done when it happened, Levin says.
He recommends people of all ages – even infants – schedule regular wellness visits. The American Optometric Association recommends that children have vision screening at 6 months, eye exams at 3 and 5 years old, and then annual exams during school years unless more frequent visits are warranted.
“Obviously, a baby can’t tell you if something is wrong with their eyes, so it’s a good idea to check their eye health,” he said.
For adults ages 18 to 40, Albright recommends a wellness visit at least every two years, unless patients are being evaluated for contact lenses or have medical conditions, such as diabetes.
“After age 40, I see patients on a yearly basis for comprehensive eye exams or more regularly if they have an eye condition that warrants more frequent evaluations,” she said.
However, certain symptoms warrant an immediate visit to an optometrist or ophthalmologist, Albright says.
“If you ever experience the sudden appearance of flashes of light or new floaters, a sudden drop in vision even without pain, a sore eye, or a sudden turn of the eyes, you need to see your eye doctor urgently” , she said.
If a young child is not developing at the expected rate or if a student is struggling in school, an exam can help determine visual status, Albright said.
There are two types of ophthalmologists that most patients see: an optometrist and an ophthalmologist.
“An optometrist typically manages patients’ general ophthalmic health, assesses eyeglasses and contacts, manages eye diseases and binocular vision disorders, performs perioperative management and certain conditions, may perform minor surgical procedures,” Albright said. .
An ophthalmologist usually manages eye diseases and performs eye surgery.
“Some DMOs serve as general ophthalmologists, and much of their practice is focused on cataract surgery and general disease management,” she said.
Others focus on a particular structure of the eye like the cornea, retina or optic nerve with medical and surgical management or with refractive surgery, Albright said.
Although the risk of eye health problems, including macular degeneration and cataracts, can increase with age, Levin says he has advice for all of his patients.
“Eat healthy, make sure you take vitamins for your eyes, especially after 50, wear sunscreen and of course always get your eyes checked regularly,” he said.