From wearing sunglasses to maintaining a balanced diet, here's how you can protect protect your sight

What are the main eye health concerns during summer in the Middle East, and how does intense sunlight affect the eyes?

By Delna Mistry Anand

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Published: Thu 4 Jul 2024, 7:53 PM

With summer at its peak in the UAE and experts rating the ultraviolet (UV) levels in the region “extreme” on the charts, it’s time to pay attention to eye health.

While we are aware of the importance of wearing sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV rays, there isn’t enough awareness of the dangers of ignoring eye health in the summer months.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are 15 million people in the world who suffer from cataracts, and for up to 10 percent of these individuals, the cause of may have been exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

From wearing sunglasses to maintaining a balanced diet, there are many ways to protect our eyes. Dr. Mohammad Hesham Aly, Medical Director at Magrabi Eye Hospital, Dubai, shares valuable information on the importance of looking after our vision in the midst of the intense desert summer.

What are the main eye health concerns during summer in the Middle East, and how does intense sunlight affect the eyes?

During summer in the Middle East, several eye health concerns arise due to intense sunlight, high temperatures, and increased humidity. The key issues include:

Dry Eye Syndrome: High temperatures and prolonged exposure to the sun can exacerbate dry eye symptoms.

The heat accelerates tear evaporation, leading to discomfort, redness, and a gritty sensation in the eyes. Chronic dry eye can cause corneal problems and vision issues.

Corneal Damage: Intense UV radiation from the sun can cause photokeratitis, a painful condition akin to sunburn of the cornea. Over time, cumulative UV exposure can lead to more serious conditions such as pterygium (growth on the white part of the eye) and cataracts.

Humidity and Heat: High humidity combined with heat can make the eyes feel sticky and irritated. This environment is conducive to the growth of bacteria and fungi, increasing the risk of infections, especially among those who wear contact lenses.

Outdoor Work Risks: Individuals who work outdoors are at greater risk due to prolonged exposure to UV radiation, dust, and pollutants. These factors can lead to chronic eye irritation and increased risk of long-term damage.

Water Activities: Swimming in the sea or pools introduces additional risks. Contaminated water can harbour bacteria that cause infections such as conjunctivitis.

For contact lens wearers, the risk is higher because lenses can trap pathogens against the eye, leading to severe infections like acanthamoeba keratitis.

How does UV exposure relate to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and what preventive measures can be taken to reduce this risk?

AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in older adults, affecting the central vision necessary for tasks such as reading and driving.

UV exposure can accelerate the ageing process of the eye and increase the risk of degeneration.

The macula, a critical part of the retina, can suffer damage over time due to prolonged UV exposure.

Protecting your eyes from harmful UV rays during the summer is crucial, especially for individuals with light skin and those working outdoors, as they are at higher risk of UV-related damage.

UV exposure can significantly contribute to eye conditions such as cataracts and AMD.

Here are some key points and preventive measures:

Protect your eyes by choosing sunglasses that block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays: Wraparound styles provide additional protection by reducing exposure from the sides.

Remember to carry an umbrella or seek shade whenever possible, especially during peak sunlight hours (10am to 4pm).

And don’t forget to care for your skin, by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen around the eyes to help protect the delicate skin in this area from UV damage.

Preventive Measures for AMD:

Regular Eye Exams: Routine eye exams can help detect AMD early. Early intervention can slow its progression.

Healthy Diet: A diet rich in leafy greens and fish, and foods high in antioxidants (such as vitamins C and E, zinc, and lutein) supports eye health.

Reduce/quit smoking: Smoking is a significant risk factor for AMD. Quitting can help reduce the risk.

Manage Health Conditions: Comorbidities such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol can exacerbate AMD. Proper management of these conditions is crucial.

Wear Protective Eyewear: Consistently wearing UV-blocking sunglasses can reduce the risk of cumulative UV damage that contributes to AMD.

What are the key precautions that you advise people to follow, irrespective of age or activity level?

Each and every person must look after their vision, especially during the day.

Here are a few rules you must not forget:

Stay Hydrated: We all know how vital it is to drink plenty of water to maintain overall hydration, but this is also useful to keep your eyes moist. In case you have dry eyes, use lubricating eye drops to combat the negative effects of being outdoors for long hours or in air-conditioned environments. Protect your eyes from direct exposure to air conditioning or fans, which can dry them out further.

Wear a Hat or Carry an Umbrella: A wide-brimmed hat or an umbrella can provide additional shade and reduce UV exposure to your eyes.

Protective Eyewear for Outdoor Work: Use safety goggles or protective eyewear when working outdoors to shield your eyes from dust, debris, and UV rays.

Practice Good Hygiene with Contact Lenses: Avoid wearing contact lenses while swimming. If you must wear them, use daily disposables and wear waterproof swim goggles.

Always clean and disinfect your lenses properly.

By taking these precautions, you can minimise the risk of eye health issues in the intensity of summer and beyond.

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