This summer’s potent climatic mix of warm temperatures, high humidity levels, greater airborne dust and pollen as well as freak sandstorms could adversely affect the health of UAE residents, doctors tell GN Focus, with the eyes in particular being singled out for closer attention.

“In the summer we are continuously exposed to high dose of UV rays, hot air, humidity, dust as well as pollen in the air, which all contribute to eye disease,” says Dr Omar Ibrahim at the JCI-accredited Shamma Clinic in Dubai. Even people with healthy eyes could face issues.

Allergic conjunctivitis

As the mercury soars and we spend more time indoors and on our smartphones, the prevalence of allergies increases correspondingly, adds Dr Iyad Armoush, Specialist Ophthalmologist at the Canadian Specialist Hospital in Dubai.

“Summer is the season of allergies and dryness due to exposure to more sunlight and ultraviolet rays, sandstorms and excessive heat,” he says. “Another reason for allergies during summer is high exposure to air conditioners indoors and exposure to chlorine in swimming pools.”

Allergic conjunctivitis typically occurs when the conjunctiva, a thin layer covering the whites of the eyes, is inflamed. Symptoms include redness and itchy or watery eyes, swollen eyelids, a burning sensation and sensitivity to light, while the potential allergens are pollen, dust, chlorine, animal dander, make-up and eye creams.

Prophylaxis, or preventive treatment, is the best remedy for eye allergies, Dr Armoush says.

“We recommend patients who are prone to allergies to avoid eye irritants, long hours on gadgets, direct exposure to air conditioners and rubbing their eyes. Sunglasses are highly recommended to protect your eyes from sun exposure.”

Dr Ibrahim says those who do contract allergic conjunctivitis are usually treated with artificial tears or other eye drops such as antihistamines and/or mast cell stabilisers, a class of drugs that stabilise the cell and prevent the release of histamine and related mediators.

Dry eye

Ironically, long hours spent indoors away from the humidity takes its toll on the body in different ways. Life in air-conditioned offices and homes can cause eyes to become red and itchy, says Dr Sandra Fiorentini, Specialist Ophthalmologist, Moorfields Eye Hospital in Dubai.

The condition is called keratoconjunctivitis sicca but is simply known as dry eye. It occurs when the eyes don’t make enough tears or the tears evaporate too quickly, as often happens on a long-haul flight, for instance.

Most cases are mild and don’t require treatment, but when left untreated, the corneal surface is often damaged and left vulnerable to ulceration and infection.
“Dry eye diseases cause burning sensations, foreign body sensation and irritation in the eye,”says Dr Armoush.

The standard course of treatment in case of severe dryness is to prescribe lubricant eye drops known as artificial tears for daily use and ointments to be applied each night. “In addition, omega-3 supplements could be beneficial,” Dr Ibrahim says.

UV-linked problems

The evils of ultraviolet radiation are well documented and smart beachgoers know to slap on sunscreen. Not so many realise that the sun’s ultraviolet rays also harm the eyes.

“UV radiation increases the risk of getting cataracts, in which the eye’s lens becomes cloudy and leads to reduced eyesight,” says Dr Fiorentini. “UV radiation has also been linked to macular degeneration, a treatable but incurable disease of the macula, which is part of the retina at the back of the eye that is essential for sharp vision.”

Other UV-related eye problems are pterygium and pinguecula. A pterygium, called surfer’s eye, occurs when the conjunctiva grows into the cornea. A pinguecula is a yellowish bump of tissue on the white of the eye. Both are usually benign conditions, but nevertheless require consulting a doctor, who may advise surgery.

Preventive measures involve a fashion upgrade. “Eye protection by wearing sunglasses is recommended to prevent damage from UV light,” says Dr Fiorentini.

“Choosing sunglasses with adequate UV protection is important because UV damage in the eye builds up over time. 

“Some sunglasses may be adequate for driving or everyday activities, but greater protection may be needed for extreme UV conditions such as skiing and surfing.”

So snap on those sunnies and face the sun: whatever the summer brings, a little preparation can go a long way.