UAB experts share tips on protecting your eyes this summer

Female smiling while wearing sunglasses and a hat at the beach

Summertime is here, and outdoor activities are in full swing. Most people understand the importance of protecting their skin while spending time in the sun, but it’s also important to protect your eyes.

Below, UAB Medicine vision experts share some advice for preserving your eyesight while enjoying the sunshine and outdoor activities.

UV damage

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

UV rays can even cause sunburn of the eyes, which can be painful and lead to light sensitivity that may last for several days. To protect the eyes from all of these conditions, Dr. Onken recommends wearing sunglasses that block 100% of ultraviolet (UV) light and finding a pair of sunglasses that fits well and wraps around the face, protecting the eyes and eyelids. To further reduce exposure to UV rays, Dr. Onken also recommends wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

Also, there are contact lenses available now that block 100% of UV rays, according to Katherine Weise, O.D., director of the UAB Pediatric Optometry Service. 

“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,” Dr. Weise said. “They 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 eyes if the ball is coming straight at them,” Dr. Weise said. “If a ball hits the eye, it can cause a black eye or retinal detachment, which is why it is very important to prioritize eye safety when playing sports.”

Dr. Weise recommends wearing “rec specs” and faceguards that have polycarbonate (shatter-resistant) lenses and sturdy frames. These can protect athletes from balls and fingers damaging the eyes.

“The best type of protective eyewear also contains shields on the temples, to protect the eyes from all angles,” Dr. Onken added.


“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,” Dr. Weise said. “Safety glasses are critical for these activities, to help prevent 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 inspect them for cracks or tears before use. Also, avoid rubbing the eyes when handling chemicals or pesticides. If chemicals or pesticides do end up in the eye, wash it as quickly and gently as possible.


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

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

“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,” Dr. 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, prescription goggles may be a good option for those who are actively involved in swimming or other water sports and concerned about being able to see well enough.

Seasonal allergies

“Eye allergies occur when allergens such as pollen, mold spores, dust mites, or pet dander make contact with the whites of the eyes,” 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.”

There are no effective ways to prevent eye allergies, but some people with seasonal allergies may benefit from using eye drops before their symptoms start, Dr. Rothstein said. Symptoms of eye allergies include itching, redness, puffy eyes, and tearing. He recommends using over-the-counter allergy eye drops and cool compresses for mild symptoms, and treatment with prescription steroid eye drops may be helpful in more severe cases.

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

When to see a doctor

Eye protection may not be top of mind during the summer, but taking these steps can help maintain 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,” Dr. Onken said. “Don’t hesitate to see your eye doctor if you develop symptoms such as irritation, redness, sensitivity to light, vision changes, or anything else out of the ordinary. Proper treatment can reduce pain, speed healing, and prevent or limit permanent damage.”

To make an appointment with UAB Eye Care, please call 205-975-2020 or visit

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