Don’t let the Sun Blind You: July is UV Safety Month. Protect Your Eyes in Sunny Southwest Florida.Jul 14, 2021 04:48PM ● By Emily Benson
Floridians get to enjoy sunshine and outdoor activities all year long. It’s one of the greatest benefits of living where we do. But spending time outdoors is not without risk to your eyes.
Dr. Trevor Elmquist, a board-certified ophthalmologist, U.S. military veteran and avid fisherman, spends a lot of time outdoors. Throughout his 30 years of living in Southwest Florida, he has seen the eye-related risks that come with the region’s endless sunshine. That’s why he recommends taking mindful steps to protect and maintain eye health.
“As Floridians, we tend to spend a lot of time outdoors,” says Elmquist, who is also the founder of Elmquist Eye Group in Fort Myers and Cape Coral. “Fishing is one of my favorite pastimes, but with any activity that requires long periods in the sun, it’s critical to limit overexposure.”
Studies have shown that long-term overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation without proper eye protection can cause melanoma and skin cancer around the eyelids, in addition to a variety of conditions including cataracts, macular degeneration and small growths on the white of the eye. These conditions are propelled by UV radiation and can often result in vision loss, requiring treatment or even surgery to repair the damage.
Dr. Yasaira Rodriguez, a comprehensive ophthalmologist for Elmquist Eye Group, also has a love of the water and fishing and regularly cautions patients about UV safety.
“The sun’s damaging UV rays are intense, particularly as the sun reflects off water, cement and sand,” Rodriguez says. “Protecting our skin from sun exposure is a common practice, especially in Southwest Florida, but many people neglect the importance of also protecting our eyes from those harmful UV rays.”
Mild sun overexposure can result in temporary inflammation, causing the eyes to feel sunburned. This inflammation often comes with sensitivity to light, redness, excessive tearing and dry, uncomfortable eyes. While eye drops and cool compresses can provide relief for mild symptoms, the effects of more severe or prolonged overexposure can result in long-term damage.
“We experience life with our eyes,” Elmquist notes. “Good UV safety habits should be practiced year round so that we can continue seeing clearly for years to come.”
Eye-care habits, whether good or bad, have a significant impact on vision. The eye-care specialists at Elmquist Eye Group offer these tips for protecting your eyes during Florida’s sun-drenched summer months and beyond.
UV-blocking attire: Even if you’re outside for only a few minutes, you should be sure to wear UV-blocking sunglasses. A broad-brimmed hat also offers extra protection from the sun’s rays.
Be mindful of the time: The sun is at its strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. Limit your time spent in the sun during this timeframe.
Don’t be deceived by clouds: The sun’s rays can pass through haze and thin clouds. Be mindful of eye protection even when it’s cloudy.
Look away: Looking at the sun can damage the eye’s retina due to solar radiation. Never look directly at the sun.
Everyone is at risk: Sun damage can affect any person at any age. Don’t forget the importance of UV protection for children and older family members.
While sunglasses play an important role in protecting your eyes, you have to know what characteristics to look for when shopping to ensure maximum benefits. The American Optometric Association advises that your sunglasses should:
Block out 99-100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation.
Screen out 75-90 percent of visible light
Have close-fitting frames to prevent exposure from the sides
Be perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection
Have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition.
“Manufacturer labels do not always state the amount of UV protection,” Rodriguez says. “When shopping for sunglasses, look for ones that provide information on UV protection to ensure your eyes are protected.”
Sunlight offers many benefits, and getting enough sun is an important part of maintaining overall health. By taking steps for UV safety, you can enjoy the sunshine and Florida’s year-round activities like golf, tennis, fishing and swimming with confidence. As Dr. Elmquist says, “Just be sure to remember your sunglasses!”
Emily Benson is a native Southwest Floridian and enjoys writing about the people and organizations who call this region home.