The bright sun and wind that thrill our other senses this time of year can put a major strain on our eyes. To protect and care for them, follow these four simple strategies, and you'll see well into the future.
Wear Smart Shades
The damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays accumulate in eyes just as they do on skin. Over time, too much exposure can cause cataracts, cloudy areas in the lens that can blur our vision as early as our 40s, and may contribute to macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 50. To help prevent all of the above, choose sunglasses that completely block both rays, and wear them even when it's cloudy out, says Dianna Seldomridge, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Make sure the tag says so, or that they provide "100 percent protection again UV 400."
Polarized UV lenses go a step further: They're designed to filter light and reduce glare, and they're a must if you spend lots of time outside, especially driving or near water. The surface of oceans, rivers, and lakes reflects nearly 10 percent of the sun's rays (meaning they bounce back up into your eyes), while sea foam reflects about 25 percent, and dry sand about 15, per the World Health Organization.
Correct and Protect
Eye-care providers can apply a clear coating to regular glasses that offers 100 percent UV protection, says optometrist Samuel D. Pierce, president of the American Optometric Association. Some contacts have built-in blockers, too, that can shield your eyes from up to 100 percent of UVB and 99.9 percent of UVA rays; new Acuvue Oasys with Transitions lenses, for in instance, completely block UVBs, in addition to automatically adjusting to different light levels. But remember, you will need to wear sunglasses—the larger the frames, the better, and ideally paired with a wide-brimmed hat, says Seldomridge—to protect the delicate skin around your eyes.
Shield Your Lids
That skin is more vulnerable to cancer than you may know: 5 to 10 percent of the nearly five million diagnoses in the U.S. each year—in other words, up to 500,000 cases—occur on the eyelids. So when applying sunscreen to your face every morning (it should be broad-spectrum and at least SPF 30), make sure to cover your entire eye area, upper and lower lids included. A mineral-based formula made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is less likely to sting if it accidentally gets in. People who end mo of the day sitting near a window should aim to reapply two to three times to thwart UVA exposure (the glass can let in 63 percent of those rays), says Maritza Perez, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine and senior vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation. If you're active outdoors, increase that to every two hours.
Outwit the Elements
Hot, arid, or windy weather not only dries out eyes, but can blow in allergens and other irritants. Your first line of defense is adding moisture, so try using over-the-counter eye drops when needed—a smart move before you get on an airplane, too. (Even better, wear your glasses instead of contacts when flying.) Because other factors—such as medications, including antidepressants and those for high blood pressure—can play a role too, Pierce suggests checking in with an eye-care provider if dryness persists. Also, and this is crucial in our tethered-to-our-devices world, remind yourself to blink. We tend to not close our eyes very often or as completely when we're focused on a screen, says optometrist Charissa Lee, dire or of professional education for Johnson & Johnson Vision Care. When you take a break or look away from your computer (ideally every 20 minutes), blink five times in a row, consciously closing them. This triggers tiny glands to release oils that help build up the eye's tear film. Other ways to keep your eyes in the clear: Replace air-conditioning filters monthly; shower after being outside to rinse off pollen; and to soothe them, soak a wash-cloth in water (warm for dry eyes, cool for irritated ones), wring it out, lay it over closed lids, and say "ahhhh."