UAB experts offer tips on how to protect your eyes this summer

To help keep your eyes healthy this summer, follow these simple tips from experts at UAB Eye Care.

Stream protect your eyesTo help keep your eyes healthy this summer, follow these simple tips from experts at UAB Eye Care.Summertime is officially here, and outdoor activities are in full swing. While many people know how important it is to protect their skin while spending time in the sun, experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry want to remind everyone that protecting their eyes is just as important.

To help keep your eyes healthy this summer, follow these simple tips.

UV damage

“UV light can cause lasting damage to your eyes and eyelids,” said Nicholas Onken, O.D., an optometrist at UAB Eye Care. “This leads to an increased risk for the development of cataracts and macular degeneration in the eyes and skin cancer on the eyelids.”

In addition to cataracts and macular degeneration, there is also a risk of the eyes’ getting sunburned, which can be quite painful and lead to sensitivity to light that can last for several days. To protect the eyes from all of these conditions, Onken recommends wearing sunglasses that block 100 percent of UV light and finding a pair of sunglasses that fit well and that wrap around the face, providing protection to the eyes and eyelids. To further reduce exposure to UV rays, Onken also recommends wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

Katherine Weise, O.D., the UAB Pediatric Optometry Service director, also says that UV-blocking contact lenses are an option for protecting eyes from the sun as well. UAB Eye Care has a variety of options for contact lenses that block 100 percent of UV light. These lenses reduce the amount of light going into the eye. 

“While sunglasses and hats are very effective at protecting the eyes from UV rays, contact lenses also do a good job of protecting the parts of the eye they are covering, including the cornea,” Weise said. “Contact lenses that block UV light are great for outdoor athletes who don’t want the weight or inconvenience of sunglasses on their face and ears, particularly when they are sweaty.”


“Ball sports are great for the body, but terrible for the eye if the ball is coming straight at it,” Weise said. “If a ball hits the eye, it can cause a black eye or lead to retinal detachment, which is why it is very important to prioritize eye safety when playing sports.”

Weise recommends wearing “rec specs” and face guards that have polycarbonate (shatter-resistant) lenses and sturdy frames. These can protect the athlete from balls and fingers flying toward the eyes.

“The best type of protective eyewear contains shields on the temples, protecting the eyes from all angles,” Onken said.


“Summer may be the time when people are strapping on the tool belt to finish house projects like fixing the deck or pressure washing windows and driveways,” Weise said. “Safety glasses are critical for these activities to avoid chemicals, wood chips, paint and other debris from entering the eye, especially at a particularly fast and therefore forceful rate.”

Choose safety glasses that provide a seal around the eye, and before wearing them, examine the glasses for cracks or tears. Additionally, when handling chemicals or pesticides, avoid rubbing the eyes. If chemicals or pesticides do end up in the eye, wash the eye as quickly and gently as possible.

1204944447725931.lHFcwsCagFpFSS3V4egN height640Swimming

“Sunglasses are great for kids at the pool since the harmful rays are coming from the sky above and reflecting off the water below,” Weise said. “Since kids’ eyes are very clear, more sun damage may occur during the younger ages.” 

Weise also recommends children wear swim goggles to help protect their eyes from chlorine and other chemicals in pools. She also recommends putting artificial tears into the eyes before and after swimming to moisturize the eyes. Artificial tears can also help rinse out any remaining contents from the pool or other bodies of water that may be lingering in the eyes.

“In addition to UV protection with sunglasses and hats, contact lens wearers should avoid wearing their contacts in the water, be it the pool, the lake or the ocean,” Onken said. “Contact lenses can harbor germs that can cause some very dangerous eye infections, so it is important to talk with your eye doctor about specific guidelines you should be following.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for those who are actively involved in swimming or other water sports and who are concerned about being able to see well enough without wearing lenses, prescription goggles may be a good option.

Seasonal allergies

“Eye allergies occur when an allergen such as pollen, mold spores, dust mites or pet dander makes contact with the white of the eye,” said Andrew Rothstein, O.D., an optometrist at UAB Eye Care. “When this happens, an immune response is activated in the eyes similar to what would happen in a viral or bacterial infection. Even though no infection is actually present, the body reacts as if there is, leading to inflammation.”  

For 24/7 emergency eye care needs, call UAB Callahan Eye at 844-UAB-EYES.

Rothstein says, while there are no effective prevention methods for eye allergies, some seasonal allergy sufferers may start their eye drops treatments before their symptoms start.

Symptoms of eye allergies include itching, redness, puffy eyes or tearing. To get relief from eye allergies, Rothstein recommends using over-the-counter allergy eye drops and cool compresses. For more severe cases, treatment with prescription steroid eye drops may be the best treatment.

“Eye allergies are typically a benign condition medically, but the symptoms can be aggravating or even debilitating for allergy sufferers,” Rothstein said. “Eye pain, excessive discharge and blurred vision are not typically symptoms of eye allergies and should prompt a call to your optometrist if they are present.”

While eye protection may not be top-of-mind during the summer, taking these steps plays a vital role in maintaining eye health.

“There are short-term and long-term problems that can develop if eye protection is not prioritized, ranging from small abrasions that heal in a day or two to irreversible vision loss due to macular degeneration,” Onken said. “Don’t hesitate to see your eye doctor if you develop any symptoms of irritation, redness, sensitivity to light, changes in your vision or anything else out of the ordinary. Proper treatments can reduce pain, speed healing, and prevent or limit permanent damage.”

To make an appointment for comprehensive eye care, call UAB Eye Care at 205-975-2020 or visit