From chlorine-rich swimming pools to seasonal allergies triggered by freshly cut grass, it’s a cruel joke that the makings of a kickass summer go hand-in-hand with the most uncomfortable eye situations. Here’s how to troubleshoot while you’re in the moment to make sure the scratchy and annoying side effects don’t get in the way of summer spontaneity.
If you’re a contact lens wearer, you inevitably think twice before taking the plunge. “There’s a big controversy of what you should do,” says Louise Sclafani, O.D., director of optometric services at the University of Chicago. (Can you swim in lenses? Can you not swim in lenses?) “The contact lens is meant to be in a solution with the same pH and salt balance as your tears,” she says. “Chlorinated water has a higher salt content, so the water from the contact lens will be drawn out.” You’re left with—you guessed it—lenses that feel awkward and dry. “We recommend is single use lenses—ones you put on in the morning and throw out when you’re done swimming,” she says. Wear goggles if you’re swimming in contact lenses and if you’re a competitive swimmer, spring for a pair of prescription goggles, she says.
“Swimming in contact lenses dramatically increases risk for infection and acanthamoeba, an organism that lives in water, primarily stagnant fresh water,” says David C. Gritz, M.D., M.P.H, director of the Cornea and Uveitis Division at Montefiore Medical Center. “The bacteria adheres to the contact lenses, so it's sitting right on your eye.” Just like pools, the fix is to choose disposable lenses that you can toss after swimming. This eliminates the risk of creating a breeding ground for the bacteria to multiply on the lens, he says.
A/C offers welcome reprieve when the temperature flirts with 90 degrees, but it also fosters a dry environment. “You’re more likely to have dryness especially in air conditioned environments where the air is more dry and not as humid,” Gritz says. When you’re in the car or in front of the vents, point the fans away so they’re not blowing directly at you, Sclafani says. That’s a tall order if you’re battling the cold, dry air in an office building where you have little control. In that case, grab a lubricant that specifies “contact lens” on the bottle. Try Refresh Contacts Contact Lens Comfort Moisture Drops for Dry Eyes. Or, to encourage more hydration naturally, take a fish oil supplement. A study found that taking a fish oil supplement for eight to 12 weeks improved dry eye symptoms.
Add artificial tears to your purse before heading to the airport and apply a few drops during and after the flight as needed. Steer clear of any solution that promises to “get the red out,” Gritz says. “Using these on an ongoing basis causes chronic problems and shrinks the blood vessels and doesn’t address the underlying the problem,” he says.
Protect your peepers with sunglasses boasting UV protection—the fuller the coverage, the better. Some lenses, like Acuvue Advance Brand Contact Lenses with Hydraclear, actually provide ultraviolet protection, but know that they won’t protect the areas of the eye not covered directly by the lens, Sclafani says. UV protection, either on the contact or sunglass lens, absorbs the dangerous rays to prevent them from reaching the inner eye and damaging the cells, she says. Without it, the cornea can get a thermal burn, like sunburn on the eye, that speeds up other disease processes like macular degeneration.
“If you’re more susceptible to allergies and you’re outside, then you’re probably collecting some debris on the contact lens,” Sclafani says. If your allergies induce itchiness, rubbing them will only make them worse because itching causes the allergy cells to release more itching chemicals, Gritz says. Store your artificial tears in the refrigerator to keep them cold, Gritz suggests. “The cold helps decrease the activity of the itching chemical that has already been released by the cells.” If you’re not at home when the itching session strikes, buy a can of soda and hold it over your eyes. “Putting the cold can over your eyes can be very soothing, and it’s amazingly effective,” Gritz says. Take that, Mother Nature.
When the solution drips into your eyes from sweat while you’re out playing beach volleyball, you’re left cursing your diligent sunscreen application. “Once it happens, you need to wash your face wash and your eyes very well,” Gritz says. “There’s no serious harm done; it's just uncomfortable.” Look for natural sunscreens that opt for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which the FDA finds to be two effective physical filters, instead of irritating chemical alternatives. We like La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultralight Sunscreen Fluid.