We’ve all heard about the importance of sunscreen — but did you know that taking care of your eyes in the heat is just as important as protecting your skin?
According to the World Health Organization, there are 15 million people in the world who are blind from cataracts, and for up to 10% of these individuals, the cause of their condition may have been exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to prevent the sun from damaging your eyes. Keep reading to learn how to protect your eyes against the elements this summer. For more eye care tips, check out the best places to buy glasses and contact lenses online.
Protecting your eyes from the sun in the warm weather
From wearing sunglasses to following a balanced diet, there are plenty of ways to protect your eyes in the heat. Here are some science-backed tips for summer eye care.
One of the easiest — and most stylish — ways to take care of your eyes is by wearing sunglasses during the day. When your eyes aren’t protected in the sun, they’re exposed to multiple types of UV rays, which can increase your risk of certain diseases, including photokeratitis and cataracts.
Consider polarized lenses
Polarized lenses are designed with a special chemical that filters more light than other sunglasses. They also reduce glare from reflective surfaces, like water and snow, so they’re a good option if you spend a lot of time outside.
Choose the right lens color
While it may seem like darker lenses would provide more protection from UV rays, the opposite is true. Extremely dark lenses force your pupils to open wider, allowing more sunlight into your eyes. Instead of dark lenses, opt for gray or smoke-colored lenses to get the most sun protection.
Keep your eyes hydrated
During summer, your eyes can dry out quickly, particularly if you live in a dry climate, sit in air-conditioned spaces regularly or spend lots of time in swimming pools. Dehydrated eyes can have uncomfortable consequences, causing burning, irritation and light sensitivity, which may get worse if you wear contact lenses.
Drinking alcohol can also dry out your eyes, so reducing your booze intake may help keep your eyes more lubricated and stave off dehydration.
Read more: Best Non-Alcoholic Drinks
Use eye drops if your eyes are dry
If you have a moderate case of dry eyes, you may find some relief from over-the-counter eye drops. But if the irritation continues, talk to your doctor about getting prescription-strength drops.
Eat a well-balanced diet
Following a nutritious diet can have benefits for your eye health as well. Specifically, you’ll want to aim for a well-balanced meal plan that includes a variety of antioxidant-rich foods that support eye health.
For example, vitamin C may help lower your risk of developing cataracts. Good sources of this vitamin include raw bell peppers, oranges and carrots. Similarly, vitamin E protects your eyes from free radicals, which can damage and break down the tissue in your eyes. You can find vitamin E in seeds, nuts and sweet potatoes. Finally, vitamin A also supports proper eye function and is found in foods like leafy greens and orange vegetables.
In contrast, there are also foods that aren’t great for your eye health. Sugary drinks and fried foods, for instance, can raise your risk of diabetes and, later, diabetic retinopathy.
Limit screen time
Staring at a laptop or phone screen for too long can irritate your eyes and lead to a condition called eye strain. Common symptoms of eye strain include headaches, light sensitivity, itchy eyes and blurred vision.
Unfortunately, depending on your job, avoiding screen time may not be realistic. However, there are some eye care tactics you can use to limit the effect that digital screens have on your eyes. Notably, the American Optometric Association recommends following the 20-20-20 rule while you’re using electronic screens. This means taking a 20-second break from all screens at least once every 20 minutes to look at an object that’s 20 feet away.
Other strategies to protect your eyes from digital screens include lowering the brightness on your devices, switching to dark mode and wearing blue-light-blocking glasses.
Avoid looking directly at the sun
Staring at the sun for too long isn’t just uncomfortable — it can cause serious, and sometimes permanent, damage to your eyes. When the sun’s UV rays enter your eyes, they can form free radicals and harm your retinas, potentially causing a condition known as solar or photic retinopathy.
Milder symptoms of solar retinopathy can range from watery eyes to eye discomfort to headache. If your case is more severe, you may experience blurred vision or blind spots. For some people, these effects are irreversible. If you’ve noticed that your vision has worsened after viewing an eclipse or looking at the sun, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Protect your eyes while outside or playing sports
Aside from wearing sunglasses, there are other effective ways to protect your eyes while you’re spending time outside.
For example, if you’re gardening or hiking, you can wear a wide-brimmed hat or visor to keep your eyes covered. If you’re headed to the beach or pool, grab a pair of goggles to protect your eyes from the water, salt and chlorine and ward off swimmer’s eye. Similarly, if you’re playing sports, make sure to put on protective glasses to lower your risk of eye injury.
No matter what you’re doing, you should also wear sunscreen on your face to prevent burns on your eyelids or the sensitive skin around your eyes.
Get quality sleep
If you’ve ever woken up from a poor night’s sleep with dry and itchy eyes, you’ve experienced how a lack of quality sleep can impact your eye health, and science backs that up. In one study, researchers found a correlation between low-quality sleep and dry eye disease, noting that subpar sleep quality can aggravate the effects of DED.
Read more: Poor Sleep? Try These Easy Tricks
When you’re tired, you’re also more likely to rub your eyes, which could lead to eye damage or an infection. Separately, not getting enough sleep has been linked to other irritating but non-serious health issues, including myokymia (eye twitching), bloodshot eyes and puffiness and under-eye bags.