Spring into eye safety

Although this blog has readers all over the world, most of you reside in the northern hemisphere, where spring is well underway and summer isn’t far behind. This post is for you.  If you happen to live in the southern hemisphere where the weather is getting colder, you might want to check out this post (and keep this one bookmarked to read in six months or so).

As the temperature rises, many of us begin to engage in outdoor activities that can, if we are not careful, put our eye health at risk: activities like gardening and yard maintenance, sports and recreational injuries. In each of these activities, the simple step of wearing the right protective eye equipment can reduce your risk of eye injury by 90 percent or more.

In the garden, or when you are operating a chain saw or hedge clipper, safety glasses or goggles can prevent dirt and debris from entering and injuring your eyes. Sap and secretions from plants can also be hazardous to the eyes, as best-selling author Rick Warren found out last summer. Warren had been wearing gloves, but got some sap from a particularly toxic plant on his hands anyway, and ended up rubbing it into eyes. The result was excruciating pain and a trip to the emergency room (but no permanent damage to his vision).

A less obvious threat to vision related to gardening is Toxocara canis parasite, a.k.a. dog roundworms—the most common parasite carried by dogs. Roundworm larvae can sometimes end up in garden soil. If that soil is not washed from fruits or vegetables, the larvae can be ingested by humans and migrate to the retina where they can cause a condition called ocular larva migrans (OLM), a cause of retinal inflammation, scarring and sometimes blindness. Eye protection won’t help ward off OLM. To do that, keep your dog out of your garden, wear gardening gloves and wash your fruits and vegetables very thoroughly.

I have often stressed the importance of using the right protective eyewear when engaging in sports and recreational activities that involve throwing and catching balls, “flying” arms and elbows (in sports like karate) or anything involving shooting, such as paintball or “airsoft.” Of course, you’ll want to make sure your kids’ eyes are protected when they engage in these activities, but you can be a great role model and protect your own vision by making sure you always wear the right eye-safety equipment, too.

Keep in mind that prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses, and even occupational safety glasses are not enough eye protection for people using equipment like chainsaws or engaging in sports activities. Your eye physician can help you chose the right kind of eye protection for your warm-weather activities, and most likely he or she will recommend protection of highly impact-resistant polycarbonate.

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