Last summer I spent a morning of my beach vacation driving 20 minutes inland to an optometrist’s office so we could dig sand out of my 7 year old’s eye. Me – the eye doctor! The irony was not lost on me. And while it was nice to meet a colleague, this was obviously not the way anyone wishes to spend part of their vacation.
So while kids will be kids and some incidents are unavoidable despite our best efforts, there is still a lot that can be done to protect our eyes while hitting the sand and sea this summer:
Careful With That Sand
Getting sand in the eye is no fun for anyone of any age. The best thing you can do is try to avoid getting sand in your eyes in the first place. Keep a bucket of water nearby for sandy hands. Better yet – talc free baby powder is magic! It clumps the sand right off of your hands and anywhere else it may have gotten, and if you find a zinc oxide based baby powder it doubles as an extra bit of sunscreen.
Of course wearing sunglasses with full UVA/UVB protection is also beneficial – not only will these protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays (more on this later), they will double as a protective barrier between your eyes and the elements.
If you or a family member does happen to get some sand in the eye, make sure your hands are clean and try rinsing your eyes with saline solution first. After our incident at the beach last year, I always carry a bottle of saline solution with us now when traveling to the shore. You want to act quickly, because foreign bodies have a way of lodging themselves under your upper eyelids. Don’t worry – nothing can actually go behind your eye – that is a myth. But if something like a piece of sand gets stuck under your upper lid, not only will it be uncomfortable, but it will continue to scratch your eye everytime you blink. This will often require a trip to the eye doctor so he or she can find it underneath the slit lamp and carefully remove it without doing further damage.
Sport Those Sunglasses
As I mentioned above, I cannot stress the importance of a good pair of sunglasses enough. They can provide you with some limited protection from the sand as well as the wind. 33 million people in the United States have dry eye, and 86% of that dry eye is evaporative in nature. This means that our tears evaporate too easily, and this effect is worse under windy conditions. So wearing those sunglasses puts a layer of protection between your eyes and the wind.
And of course you want to look for a pair that offers full UVA/UVB protection. UV rays from the sun are known to cause early cataracts (clouding of your human lens) and can predispose us to macular degeneration later in life. At Siepser Eyecare, we can always pick out the patients who spent their life on the beach as children without UV protection, because we can start to detect changes in their human lens as early as your 20s.
Our eyelids are the thinnest skin anywhere on our body, so we especially want to protect this skin from sunburns. We obviously can’t do this with traditional sunscreens. Eyelid carcinomas are very real, so this is yet another reason to wear sunglasses!
I am partial to polarized lenses – these cut back on glare, which is especially beneficial when looking at the water. I always say once you go poralized you never go back! I got hooked on them in my lifeguarding days, but fishermen, kayakers, and other outdoor enthusiasts have long appreciated the way they cut out glare from surfaces. Remember – UV protection and polarized lenses are not the same thing, so if you want both you have to specifically look for both.
Remember – you can always purchase a pair of prescription sunglasses, and if you are over 40 and enjoy reading on the beach these sunglasses can have a bifocal put into them.
Contact Lenses And Water Do Not Mix
Please – for the love – do not swim in your contact lenses. If you forget your contact lens solution, do not put regular water on your soft contact lenses. Think about what is in the ocean. Do you really want those microorganisms trapped in the molecular spaces in your contact lenses and then trapped between your lenses and your eyes? There are amoebas and protozoa that specifically live in warm water and are known to be toxic to our corneas. Normally our tears can flush them out of our eyes, and we also have enzymes in our tear film that can help us fight off infections. But when we are wearing contact lenses, as I already mentioned, not only can we trap these microorganisms on our eyes, but we also aren’t letting the enzymes in our tears adequately get to where they need to be, creating the perfect environment for a corneal infection to run rampant. Acanthamoeba in particular is an amoeba that lives in water and can cause a painful corneal ulcer that is known to cause blindness in the affected eye. So this wouldn’t just ruin your vacation – this could ruin your sight for life.
So make sure you travel with plenty of contact lens solution, take your contacts out to swim, have a pair of prescription sunglasses ready to go, or even consider LASIK so you have one less thing to worry about at the beach!
Think About Your Medications
Medications and the beach can be tricky. There are certain medications that increase your risk of getting a sunburn significantly, such as doxycycline. I sometimes prescribe doxycycline for my dry eye patients especially if they have ocular rosacea, but I personally try to avoid this as much as possible during the summer months when so many of patients head for the shore. Luckily, there are so many other ways treat dry eye disease that I can often work around this. At Siepser Eyecare, we are so excited for the upcoming opening of our Dry Eye Center – I cannot wait to start offering my patients some of these treatment alternatives to help get their eyes more comfortable!
Additionally, we at Siepser Eyecare appreciate that it can be especially difficult to keep your eyedrop routine going on vacation. If you have a chronic condition such as glaucoma, there are many drop free ways to manage your glaucoma. Please call the office if you would like to discuss some of these treatment options with one of our doctors.