As outdoor enthusiasts, we go to great lengths to protect ourselves from animals and insects, and to protect our skin from the sun. But not everyone puts as much thought into protecting their precious sense of sight.

The most obvious danger to our eyes in the outdoors is the possibility of foreign objects flying or floating into them. We’ve all had a gust of wind blow dust or dirt into our eyes but there are also worse possibilities, like falling tree branches. For rock climbers in particular, there are falling rocks and stones to worry about. A scratch to the eyes can at best be very uncomfortable, but at worst it can lead to swelling of the cornea and a whole host of related issues.

Possibly the biggest danger, though, is the sun. Prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays when outdoors can cause damage to the eye’s sensitive cells. This can eventually lead to serious problems, such as cataracts and reduced vision, later in life.

A physical barrier is the most obvious solution for these two issues, but it’s not just as simple as throwing on any old pair of sunglasses.

Firstly (and most importantly), you need to make sure to wear sunglasses with UV 400 protection, as these will eliminate at least 97% of UV rays. Sunglasses without UV 400 protection can actually expose your eyes to more of the harmful UV light than wearing no glasses at all, since the tinting tricks your pupils into dilating, which allows even more light into your eyes.

Sunglasses can also be good protection from most of the possible foreign objects that could end up in your eyes, but obviously some sunglasses designs will be better suited than others. A wrap-around style will offer more protection from floating debris, but depending on your chosen outdoor activity you may also require glasses that won’t move around or fall off your face. Keep all of this in mind when shopping for your next pair of sunnies.

If you normally wear prescription glasses, you have a couple of options – purchase some suitable prescription sunnies OR switch to contacts so you can still wear regular sunnies (hot tip: my lady gets her contacts cheap from Contactlenses.com.au). Switching to contacts may be the best solution since you’ll then be able to choose from a wider range of sunglasses and find the most suitable for the job, but you will need to keep hygiene in mind.

Hygiene is an issue we’re less likely to think about and one that’s especially problematic when we’re sleeping out on a camping or overnight hiking trip, away from bathrooms and showers. You rub your itchy, tired eyes without thinking about where your hands have been and before long you might find yourself with a case of conjunctivitis or an infection of the cornea. This is even more of a risk for those wearing contact lenses. If left untreated, these infections can lead to permanent eye damage and even blindness.

Eye care for outdoor adventurers

The solution is, as much as possible, to keep your hands clean and to try to be conscious of not touching your eyes. Eye drops, antihistamines, and staying hydrated can help. Those who wear contact lenses should consider using disposable lenses, since they don’t need to be cleaned after each use. You will obviously still need to touch your eyes to remove your contacts and put new ones in, so do bring some extra clean water for your hands and make sure you use hand sanitiser.

So, if you do succumb to a corneal scratch or eye iritation, what’s next? Hopefully you have eye drops and saline fluid in your first aid kit and can give the eye a flush and keep it hydrated. If the irritation is minor, you can continue your trip. However, if there’s blood, pus, or if the scratch feels very painful you will need to cut your trip short and get to a doctor as quickly as you can.

For those of us who generally operate in the world as a sighted person, our eyes are incredibly important. On your next outdoor adventure, make sure you provide them with the appropriate level of protection.

Got any tips of your own for looking after your eyes in the great outdoors? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.