Spring in Chicago brings some needed sun. The sun crosses into a higher path, and gives us some warm and energizing rays. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a type of radiation emitted by the sun that is more energetic than visible light. Being more energetic, these rays provide vital energy to plants and animals, but that same energy can be damaging. As the suns rays become stronger, everyone should take steps to protect their eyes from UV.
How can UV harm your eyes?
We often don’t think twice about the dangers of UV rays when it comes to applying sunscreen to our skin. It’s common knowledge that sunscreen is a vital part of maintaining good health and preventing skin cancer. We often forget about our eyes being exposed to these same damaging rays. Excess exposure can accelerate cataracts (the fogging of the lens inside the eye causing visual decline) and macular degeneration (central vision blindness). UV can even cause growths on the surface of the eye that can cause irritation and distort vision. To be more specific, UV-A rays can damage the interior structures of the eye and UV-B the surfaces of the eye.
How can you protect your eyes from UV?
Everyone has a few good options. Well built lenses can help block harmful UV rays. Regular clear prescription lenses can block most UV rays, and we now have some contact lenses that are designed to block UV. Of course neither will reduce any uncomfortable brightness or glare of being in the sun. That’s where good sunglasses are really helpful. They can reduce glare plus block both UV-A and UV-B rays. Coupled with an anti-reflective coating, good quality sunglasses are a solid option. If you shift between inside and outside often, photochromic lenses that darken when exposed to UV are a good choice. My team and I can help you evaluate the options which would work best for you and your lifestyle.
Also if you would like to see sunglasses and lens options, please stop into the shop. We have a wall of designs that will fit anyone’s style. You can also get info on the collections we carry here:
This time of year patients often ask me how to relieve dry eyes. The low humidity of colder weather combined with constant use of heaters that we use in Chicago can make our environment exceptionally dry. Most people know what to do about dry skin and lips. Dry eyes are often neglected, even though it can be uncomfortable.
What are the symptoms of dry eyes?
Redness in the whites of your eyes. This occurs because the eye’s surface needs a constant coat of moisture and when it doesn’t have it, the eyes get irritated and the surface blood vessels in the area get larger.
A sandy, gritty, burning feeling in your eyes. Again, without a coat of moisture on the surface of your eyes, pain receptors on the surface of your eyes get activated.
Teary eyes. This may seem paradoxical but when your eyes get dry, a tear reflex causes a sudden burst of tears out of the tear glands. The chemical makeup of these tears causes them to evaporate away quickly or simply run off out of your eyes and don’t give sustained relief.
What causes dry eyes?
Other than the low humidity environments like we experience during winter, behavioral factors can contribute to dry eyes. The act of focusing on something, especially at close distances such as your computer, inhibits the blink reflex to the point that tears can begin to evaporate more and not enough tears flow to the surface. This is a major reason why people get red eyes after a long day in front of the screen.
Contact lenses are another culprit as they require constant moisture and they compete for your own moisturizing tears.
Some people are prone to dry eyes because of a dysfunction of their tear glands or oil glands in their eyelids. Tears may seem simple but they are complex with various parts that need to be in balance. Oil glands in your eyelids provide tears with stability so that they don’t evaporate. Other glands provide the “glue” for your tears to remain on the surface of your eyes. The lacrimal gland provides the liquid portion of your tears. All these parts, including your environment, must be in balance for your tears to provide the stable, consistent moisture your eyes need.
How to relieve dry eyes
The vast majority of dry eyes can be relieved by using lubricant eye drops. Pick the right ones though. Eyedrops that claim to get the red out will not relieve the symptoms of dry eyes but only mask them. Instead stick to the lubricant eye drops. These can be found over-the-counter at the drugstore. Using them throughout the day can provide relief. This will not cure dry eyes but provide temporary relief. Just as you must reapply lip balm with chapped lips, you must re-apply eye drops for continued relief and therapy.
If using drops do not provide enough relief even with proper and regular use, there may be other causes in the complex chemistry that keeps your eyes moist. Your eye doctor is specially trained to identify them. During your eye exam, we can discuss any more complex issues that you have.
Please do set up an eye appointment if you haven’t had one in a while. You can make an appointment on our optometry page.
Digital eye strain is very common today, and you probably experience it at some times during your week. As you are reading this your eyes are crossed. That’s right, cross-eyed. On top of that, the focusing muscles inside your eyes are hard at work keeping things in focus. You also may not be blinking at a normal rate so your tears may be evaporating more, which can cause dry and red eyes. Now imagine doing that for eight, ten, twelve hours a day.
Like it or not, our modern lifestyle practically requires the use of screens at close distances with our computers and phones. Looking at something at these close distances requires coordinated action between the eyes converging (essentially being cross-eyed) and accommodation (your eye muscles and your lens keeping things in focus). It’s like a yoga pose that you must keep steady. In yoga, when you’re overworked you get tired, sweat, and it’s hard to maintain your pose. With excessive screen time and near work, we can get eye-aches, headaches, and it’s hard to maintain focus. What can we do about this? How do you relax your eyes and give them a break? Following are some tips to prevent digital eye strain.
Follow the 20-20-20 Rule
To relax your eyes from excessive near focus requires you to get out of the cross-eyed stance. This can be done by looking at far away distances. This straightens out the eyes and relaxes your focusing muscles. A good rule of thumb is the “20-20-20 rule”. Every 20 minutes, look at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds (and the more the better). Stand up, walk around, look outside a window.
Use Properly Fit Eyewear
Get a thorough eye exam. Even while giving your eyes a break, some people have a harder time focusing at near distances because of they way their eyes refract light entering their eyes. People who are farsighted for example need to work harder to keep things in focus and other people may have weaker focusing muscles. Working your way through blurry close up vision will only make digital eye strain worse. Special lenses to reduce strain and bothersome glare can help even those who think they have “good” vision.
Try Rewetting Drops
Remember to blink and don’t be afraid to use rewetting drops. Studies have shown that intense focus especially at near distances can reduce our natural blinking rate. Blinking is what keeps our eyes moisturized. It may sound weird but, yes, remember to blink. Environments both indoor and outdoor can get very dry, especially during the winter. Blinking may not be sufficient. Over the counter rewetting drops can help. Use drops as you would lip balm or moisturizing skin lotion, reapplying as needed.
These tips should help you prevent digital eye strain. I hope you find them useful. Next month we’ll dive deeper into dry eyes, causes, and what you can do about it. Please do set up an eye appointment if you haven’t had one in a while. You can make an appointment on our optometry page.