When asked which of the five senses they are most afraid of losing, most people’s response is ‘sight’. Our eyes are so precious, it is incredibly important to take precautions and protect them from everyday hazards. Here, Professor Gartry, walks you through the most common questions he gets asked:
1. How can I protect my eyes from UV light?
Most people take care to protect their eyes from bright sunlight in hot and high altitude conditions (e.g. skiing), but did you know that your eyes are also at risk from UV light all year round? Excessive exposure to UV light has been linked with certain eye conditions such as cataract and possibly macular degeneration. The risk to the eyes increases with the amount of time spent in the sun throughout our lifetimes. Whether you have light or dark skin, it is really important to take precautions from early childhood all year round (even on an overcast day, the sun’s rays can pass easily through the clouds). Here are some options:
Wear well-fitting sunglasses to protect the delicate tissues within the eyes and the skin around your eyes. Check that your sunglasses have quality standard markings: ‘CE’ (European safety standards) and ‘UV 400’ (provides protection from harmful UVA and UVB rays).
Wear a hat with a wide brim
Never look directly at the sun, including during an eclipse.
2. How can I protect my eyes from other everyday hazards?
Nine out of 10 eye injuries are preventable with better safety habits. Aside from sunglasses, you should also wear appropriate eyewear to protect against a number of everyday hazards:
Chemical – cleaning products (e.g. bleach, oven cleaners), weedkillers
Projectile – DIY, gardening, cycling, fireworks, playing sports with fast-moving objects (in particular squash and golf balls are extremely dangerous because they are a similar size to your eye).
Even with taking precautions, it is very common to get small foreign bodies like some sand of dust in your eyes from time to time. The surface of our eyes are very sensitive, so even the smallest fleck can cause a world of pain! Our instinct is to rub our eyes but this can make things worse. Try and avoid this and instead, wash your eyes with clean water to help dislodge and remove the particles. If this does the trick, you may want to use artificial lubricant drops which are available without prescription from pharmacies, every few hours to soothe any mild irritation. If the pain continues, or your vision is affected you should seek further advice from an eye care professional.
3. How can I protect my eyes from infection?
Our eyelashes and skin around our eyes have a normal flora of bacteria on their surface. You can reduce the risk of infection by following the advice below:
If you use make-up – avoid sharing products and replace them as instructed. Microbes can build up on brushes and within containers, increasing the risk of getting an eye infection, or an allergic reaction with each use. One in 5 people are unaware of expiry information on mascara and other eye make-up products and use them for far longer than they should. While there are no general guidelines as to when cosmetics should be replaced, experts suggest that you can reduce the risks of infection by changing them every 3-4 months.
If you wear contact lenses – waterborne bacteria and other microbes can attach to contact lenses if worn in the shower and when swimming. Wear prescription goggles where possible. If contact lens wear cannot be avoided, wear watertight goggles over daily disposable lenses which you remove and dispose of immediately after.
Wash your hands regularly using antibacterial soap (especially after a tube journey or a day in London!), and avoid touching and rubbing your eyes.