Six smart things college students should do for their eyes

A record 21.7 million students attend a college or university in the United States. Many teens will be living away from home for the first time without mom or dad around to reinforce healthy habits, including how to care for their eyes. Ophthalmologists are providing parents with college eye health tips to ensure their sons and daughters keep seeing 20/20 during school.

While accurate vision plays a vital role in learning, college students can be susceptible to a host of vision and eye problems such as injury, infection and increased nearsightedness that can complicate life in and out of class. Crowded classes and dorms can serve as a breeding ground for infectious eye disease, while reading and computer use in school has been linked to poorer eyesight.

Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid these and other eye issues on campus. The Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology (PAO) along with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons, offers the following six tips for protecting eyes during college:

  1. Don’t shower or swim in contact lenses. Acanthamoeba is a parasite that lives in water and can cause a rare but serious eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis. According to the CDC, 85 percent of Acanthamoeba eye infections occur in contact lens wearers, one of the main risks being exposure of lenses to water. To avoid this dangerous infection, do not wear contact lenses in showers, hot tubs or when swimming in lakes or pools. Also, never use water to clean or store contact lenses; only use sterile contact lens disinfecting solution and a clean contact lens case.
  2. Go outside. Scholastically-inclined students spend much of their time studying indoors, which can put them at risk of becoming more nearsighted, or myopic. A 2014 study found that more than 50 percent of college graduates are nearsighted, with eyesight worsening for each year in school.  Other research shows that spending more time outdoors can protect vision from getting worse.  Head outside when possible.
  3. Wash your hands. Conjunctivitis, often called pink eye, spreads fast in schools and dorms. An outbreak struck more than 1,000 Ivy League college students in 2002. Avoid rubbing the eyes and wash hands with soap to avoid catching and spreading pink eye, not to mention other infections
  4. Give your eyes a break. Nearly 80 percent of engineering and medical school students experienced symptoms such as dry eyes and redness, according to a study of students at one Indian university. To help avoid eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule: look at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. Because dry eye can also cause painful corneal ulcers, which are open sores on the front part of the eye, blink regularly and fully to keep eyes moist.
  5. Don’t share makeup. Harmless as it may seem, sharing makeup among friends. Infection-causing bacteria grow easily in creamy or liquid eye makeup. Stick to your own makeup and throw it away after three months. If you develop an eye infection, immediately toss all of your eye makeup.
  6. Protect your eyes during the game. Nearly 1 in 18 college athletes will get an eye injury playing sports. Common injuries, like scratches on the eye surface and broken bones near the eye socket, happen most often in high-risk sports such as baseball, basketball and lacrosse. Athletes should consider wearing polycarbonate sports glasses to help keep stray balls and elbows from hitting their eyes.

PAO President Drew Stoken, MD, suggests to college students, “Since you will be away at school, it's wise to have a backup pair of glasses with you if you wear glasses or contacts. You may want to also ensure you have a copy of your most recent prescription on hand as well as a good supply of contacts and contact lens solution. He also recommends not sleeping in contacts. “This bad habit raises the risk of corneal infections tremendously. Leaving contacts out overnight allows the natural protective lysozymes to fight off infection causing bacteria that are a constant threat.” 

For more information, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s public education website

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The Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology has been working to preserve and protect vision and eye health for Pennsylvania’s citizens since 1943. With member physicians throughout the Commonwealth, the PAO strives to be the voice of ophthalmology; making efforts to ensure quality eye care on the legislative and regulatory fronts, while building and maintaining relationships with major insurance carriers within the state.