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Get in the habit of practicing safe sun

By Kathy Hubbard

A few weeks ago, we talked about skin cancers. We talked about how most often, they are caused by the sun’s harmful ultra-violet rays. July is UV Safety Month, and after a quick refresher of what we should do to protect our skin, we’re going to talk about protecting our eyes.

The American Academy of Dermatology says that if you follow these three easy steps, you’ll go a long way toward protecting your skin from damaging UV rays. Step 1: Seek shade when appropriate. That is especially important during midday hours. Step two: Wear protective clothing. You know, cover your arms and legs with light-colored, lightweight clothes. In addition, wear a hat to protect your head, face, and neck, and sunglasses to block UV rays. Step three: Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

“Many people believe the UV rays of tanning beds are harmless. This is not true. The best thing to do is to not use tanning beds,” The American Cancer Society says.

What about the health benefits of vitamin D? “Whenever possible, it’s better to get vitamin D from your diet or vitamin supplements rather than from exposure to UV rays,” ACS says. “Dietary sources and vitamin supplements do not increase skin cancer risk and are typically more reliable ways to get the amount you need.”

I was told by a local physician that in our climate, one would have to sit naked in the sun for eight hours on a sunny day to get half the daily recommended dosage of vitamin D. Really.

This is something I didn’t know: “Exposure to UV rays can also weaken the immune system so that the body has a harder time fending off infections,” the ACS says. “It can also cause vaccines to be less effective.”

And, what I did know and what we’re going to focus on now is that UV rays can cause eye problems. ACS says that “they can cause the cornea (on the front of the eye) to become inflamed or burned. They can also lead to the formation of cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye) and pterygium (tissue growth on the surface of the eye), both of which can impair vision.”

I found conflicting opinions on whether or not UV rays contribute to developing macular degeneration. Still, there seems to be a consensus that excessive sun exposure can lead to glaucoma development.

A fairly common condition is photokeratitis which can quickly develop after exposure to UV reflections off snow, ice, sand, and water. Obviously, you’ll want to keep this article on hand this winter, too, as this is often called snow blindness.

“Photokeratitis is a painful, temporary eye condition caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays, most commonly from the sun. Photokeratitis can be compared to a sunburn, except that it affects the corneas of your eyes instead of your skin,” explains Cleveland Clinic. “Exposure to ultraviolet rays can temporarily damage your cornea and the conjunctiva (a clear layer of tissue covering the inside of your eyelid and whites of your eye).”

Cleveland says that you have a higher risk if you “spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun engaging in activities such as mountain climbing, hiking, skiing, and swimming; use a sunlamp, tanning bed, or work or spend time in environments in which there is UV light source, and/or live in higher altitudes or in the sunbelt.”

Common signs include pain or redness in the eyes, tearing or watery eyes, blurry vision, swelling, light sensitivity, eyelid twitching, gritty sensation, temporary loss of vision, seeing halos, and/or having headaches. Symptoms typically last from a few hours to a couple of days.

Home treatment should suffice. Remove your contact lenses if you wear them and sit in a darkened room. Don’t rub your eyes. “To relieve your discomfort, place a cold washcloth over the closed eyes, use artificial tears, and/or take an oral over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen,” Cleveland says.

For prevention: wear sunglasses in the summer and snow goggles in the winter. If your discomfort continues, call your eye care professional. Bonner General Health Ophthalmology Clinic’s phone number is 208-265-1011.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com. This article was written for and published in the Bonner County Daily Bee on July 13, 2022.

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