Eye of the beholder

PacMed eye expert advises best eye care practices

By Allegra Antwine on May 31, 2018

Summer is fast approaching, and glorious sunshine in the sky means shorts, flip-flops and perhaps most importantly: sunglasses. Far more than a fashionable accessory, sunglasses play an important role in eye health and protection, an often overlooked summertime precaution. Fortunately, Pacific Medical Centers' Ophthalmologist Dr. Tony Huynh is on duty to explain proper optical care and maintenance, and gives advice for individuals who wear glasses and contact lenses. 

As the sun shines and heat rises, people begin donning sunglasses. Can you explain the importance of protective eyewear as more than just a fashion statement?

When the sun breaks through during the summer months, many people bring out their sunglasses as a summer staple to protect their eyes against the rays. However, this is a common misconception, as people should really be wearing sunglasses and protective eyewear throughout the year, even in the winter months when the sun isn't as visibly present. The harmful UV rays from the sun are present year-round. 

Throughout the year, and especially in the summer, there are several things that people should keep in mind in regard to eye health. One is protection from the UV rays, which can damage all layers of the eye from the macula (a part of the retina at the back of the eye) to the cornea and lens at the front of the eye. Wearing UV protective sunglasses can help prevent eye damage and a range of issues including macular degeneration, cataracts, pterygium (a growth on the eye) as well as certain eye cancers.

While the majority of sunglasses these days all come with UV protective lenses, it's important to ensure that your sunglasses have the highest percentage of UV blockers by checking to make sure your lenses are 100 percent protected.

Aside from ensuring your sunglasses are UV protective, you should also ensure you have proper eye safety glasses for any type of outdoor yard work or high-impact activities and sports that are likely to take place in the warmer months. For example, if you're going to be outside mowing the lawn or playing a competitive game of soccer with prescription lenses, it's important to ensure that the lenses have UV protection, while also making sure the lenses are shatter resistant. As a safety precaution, we recommend wearing polycarbonate lenses for the most protection against impact.

What precautions can people take to ensure adequate eye health, both during summer and all-year-round? 

The most important thing to remember for eye health is the importance of preventative care and maintaining routine exams to identify and address any issues before they progress.

Aside from preventative care, people should wear protective UV lenses year-round. As discussed, there's a false perception that during the winter months we are not exposed to UV rays, when the opposite is true. For that reason, it's important to wear protective eyewear any time you step outside and expose yourself to UV rays.

I also recommend finding wraparound sunglasses that cover the sides of the eyes as well. Most sunglasses will typically cover the direct front exposure from the sun's rays, and people don't realize that sunlight can impact the eye from the side angle as well and promote further eye damage over time.

What roles do genetics and environmental factors play in optical health?

As with most areas of health, genetics play a huge role in ocular health. Studies are still being conducted to understand exactly what that role is. What we do know is that, in terms of preventative care, understanding your genetics may help you identify potential risk factors and help you stay on top of your preventative screenings. If you understand your family's genetic health issues, patients are typically able to detect those issues earlier if they develop and improve outcomes.

In terms of environmental factors, there are always things you can do to protect yourself against environmental factors, such as wearing safety glasses during yardwork or high-impact activities. Even with pristine genetics, if you're not being preventative and protecting yourself against environmental factors there is always an opportunity for injury. 

Many soldiers wear contact lenses and/or glasses. What advice can you give to individuals to maintain their eyewear?

In terms of contact lenses, it's important to always follow the proper care and hygiene instructions to prevent infection. Making sure to remove the contacts every night before sleeping is another key to maintaining eye health, as sleeping in contacts consistently can lead to a range of eye issues such as corneal scratches and infections. 

In terms of maintaining your physical eyewear such as glasses, it's important to ensure your prescription is up-to-date every two years. Again, for soldiers who wear glasses that are involved in high-impact activity every day, we recommend a UV-protected prescription lens made of polycarbonate.

How often do you recommend people receive eye exams? 

Those that wear contact lenses need to be monitored more closely and examined every year. For somebody who doesn't wear contacts, has great eye health and no family history or genetic risk factors, their number of scheduled check-ups will not need to be as frequent.

At the age of 40, patients should typically receive a baseline exam to determine if there are any areas of concern. From there, and after any issues have been addressed, patients can schedule a routine exam every 3-4 years, as long as they're not needing contacts or lens changes.

By the time patients reach the age of 60-65, they should start undergoing more routine exams every 1-2 years to stay on top of any potential issues or decline in vision.