Summer Safety in the Sunshine State: For your eyes only

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
With its subtropical climate and radiant beaches, it's easy for many to see why Florida is nicknamed the "Sunshine State." The cheery moniker may bring to mind images of summer vacations and fun in the sun, but a more accurate title may be "The Ultraviolet Radiation State."

A combination of dust and UV rays particularly can be a double dose of damage to the naked eye, said Maj. Sheridan Martin, 1st Special Operations Aerospace Medicine Squadron doctor of optometry. They may result in unattractive growths on the white part of the eye which can warp the cornea and decrease vision.

"We see more UV damage here because the sand is white and very reflective," Major Martin said. "Corneas can actually get sunburned, and that can cause temporary irritation and red eyes. But of more concern to me is potential long-term lens and retina damage."

Many local residents and vacationers are accustomed to grabbing a bottle of suntan lotion before heading to the coast to protect their skin, but their eyes are just as susceptible to damage from continued exposure.

Although you can't see long-range UVA or medium-range UVB waves, the harm they leave behind like cataracts and even blindness often becomes visible when it's already too late.

However, there are tips that Air Commandos and their families can follow to protect their eyes and maintain good health while walking, driving and enjoying their summer in the Sunshine State.

Major Martin suggests patients wear sunglasses to shield their eyes from rays.

"One of our major initiatives is preventative medicine," she said. "Many studies show how cataracts and macular (vision) degeneration are more common with UV exposure, and wearing sunglasses could possibly help prevent them."

Major Martin said making sunglass-wear a habit is sound practice especially for children.

"We get 80 percent of our UV exposure as kids while playing outside," she said. "It's cumulative over a lifetime, and that's why it's important to start early."

When a person doesn't wear sunglasses in daylight, Major Martin said the eyes develop a tolerance to certain levels of UV exposure. While wearing the glasses can increase your sensitivity to light over time, she said the dependency on the glasses is not necessarily a bad thing.

"The more you wear sunglasses, the more you'll need them," she said. "But wearing them is a good habit to reinforce, because you'll be protecting your eyes from UV exposure. It also helps prevent wrinkles which can come from squinting and sun damage, too."

Staff Sgt. Peadar Clark, 1st SOAMDS optometry technician, works with several patients about their eyewear at the clinic.

When purchasing a pair of sunglasses, Sergeant Clark said people don't have to spend a lot of money or rely on style to find a good pair--the UV protection is most important.

"If you're going to get sunglasses, check to see if they're 100 percent UV protective," he said. "Do your research first and get a good pair that protects against UVA and UVB rays."

In addition to wearing shades, Major Martin said the most important thing people can do for the health of their eyes is to simply practice good hygiene.

Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis, commonly known as "pink eye," can often be spread in frequented places like a weight room or pool. Major Martin said people can best take precautions by washing their hands, sanitizing equipment before and after using them and not touching their eyes. Those who have pink or swollen eyes should refrain from swimming, especially in swimming pools or water parks.

"It's important that you don't touch your eyes so you won't spread or carry disease," Major Martin said. "EKC is the worst type of pink eye that you can get, and it can live a long time in hosts. If you touch your eye and touch something else, it stays there. If someone else touches it and then touches their eye, they now have it. So please wash your hands, and if you have red or pink eyes, don't swim."

So whether it's playing in the summer sun or swimming in clear waters of the Emerald Coast, protecting and caring for your eyes is an objective Air Commandos and their families can all find time to see through.

For more information about protecting your eyes, contact the 1st SOAMDS Optometry Clinic at 881-3918.