WVU pediatric ophthalmologist shares tips for keeping kids’ eyes safe during the summer

With summer in full swing and the Fourth of July right around the corner, West Virginia University School of Medicine Pediatric Ophthalmologist Geoff Bradford, M.D., is sharing tips for keeping children’s eyes safe during the summer months.

“During the summer, many people partake in fun outdoor activities that they may not necessarily be aware pose a potential risk for eye injuries,” Dr. Bradford said.

Bradford said one such activity is fireworks – one of the leading causes of eye injuries during the summer months.

“Although the risk of injury may not be the first thing that comes to mind when shooting off fireworks, we commonly see children and adults admitted to our emergency department for facial and eye injuries caused by firework explosions,” he said. “We always advise people to operate extreme caution when operating fireworks and to keep children back at a safe distance at all times.”

Parents should also exercise caution when using hand-held sparklers, which burn at temperatures up to 3000°F.

“Stray sparks can cause severe facial burns and damage to the eyes,” Bradford explained, “To reduce the risk of harm, parents need to carefully supervise their children and have them hold sparklers with their arms outstretched and angled away from their faces. Very young children should never be allowed to hold sparklers on their own.”

Longer days in the summer result in more exposure to sunlight. While Bradford said that regular sun exposure does not immediately cause eye damage, taking preventive measures such as wearing protective lenses can prevent cumulative damage over many years.

“The plastic utilized in most prescription glasses provides a level of protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays,” he said. “This protection can be further amplified by tinted lenses or sunglasses.”

Parents of children who wear corrective lenses can choose between prescription sunglasses or glasses with transition lenses that darken outside to protect their eyes from sunlight.

“Prescription sunglasses and glasses with traditional transition lenses both offer protection from UVA and UVB rays, with the main difference being transition lenses are triggered by UV light,” he explained. “This means they won’t activate inside a car where ultraviolet light is absorbed by the windows. However, the newer TransActive lenses are able to darken inside a car,” he said.

Bradford said that while the chlorine present in swimming pools may provide brief eye irritation, it usually fades away quickly and won’t cause lasting damage. When needed, over-the-counter artificial tears typically provide sufficient relief. He stressed that although the risk for eye injury may be low for many popular summer activities, it is important to be aware of potential dangers to your eyes and vision so accidents can be avoided.

“The dangers posed to eyes and vision aren’t often recognized until after accidents happen. It’s important always to be aware of those dangers during activities such as mowing grass, weed whacking and even fishing, and to take precautions such as wearing protective eyewear when necessary,” he said.

To learn more about the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, visit medicine.hsc.wvu.edu/eye.

For tips on beating the heat during the summer, visit health.wvu.edu/student-health.

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