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Wilderness Eye Safety: A Camping Guide to Protecting Your Eyes Outdoors

Posted on July 13th, 2021

A short escape to the wilderness is (we think) a necessity when you’re living the bustling city life. But before you pack the car, it’s important to keep in mind that a stint in the great outdoors will also, inevitably, take you away from modern amenities. Whether you’re heading out for a hike or spending a weekend away camping, you may face challenges around eye care, like hygiene issues and eye infections.

We’ve put together some eye safety tips that will help be mindful of injury prevention so you can be care-free during your next outdoor adventure:

1. Pick a good location when setting up camp

Whether you’re staying for a few days or just one night, try to place your camper or tent at least in partial shade to avoid overheating and the possibility of dehydration—you and your eyes will thank you!

 TIP: If you chose a tent as your place to rest, beware of the heat! Hot temperatures could possibly dry out your contacts. Find a cool place to store your lenses safely.

2. Remember water safety and wear goggles

We’ve covered eye safety and around bodies of water before—just remember that lakes, water reservoirs and rivers can carry bacteria, fungus and irritants that may lead to infections, such as microbial keratitis.

If you’re camping near the water and plan to take a dip or playing water sports, wear goggles. Or, if you are a contact lens wearer and goggles are impractical, consider using daily contact lenses that can be disposed of right after water use, as the contact lenses can serve as a concentration point for anything in the water.

Any water activities should be closely monitored for signs of eye irritations. Keep eye solution and a safety kit on hand just in case.

3. UV radiation is always present—bring sunglasses

Whether you’re trekking through a forest, hiking up a mountain path or spending the day by the water, UV radiation is a constant in the daylight. Water reflects UV radiation back into your eyes, and contrary to popular belief, cloudy or foggy weather doesn’t stop UV rays from reaching down.

Wear 100% UVA and UVB protective sunglasses at all times and ensure you’re applying sunscreen. Always check the UV index on your smartphone app to know how much protection you need. And remember, your eyes can get a sunburn too!

4. Don’t forget to bring an extra pair of prescription glasses or sunglasses

We don’t often think to do this, but it’s best if you bring a second pair of glasses in case your existing pair breaks or gets damaged. If you’re a contact lens wearer, we still recommend bringing a pair of prescription glasses and sunglasses with you. Eye irritation such as corneal surface scratches or foreign bodies like dust, sand and other small particles do tend to affect contact wearers more because any glasses act as a first line of defense.  

TIP: Click here to read the Wilderness Medical Society practice guidelines for treating eye injuries in the wilderness to learn what to do in case of an eye emergency outdoors.

5. Bring extra contacts and contact lens solution

The Wilderness Medical Society notes that anyone wearing contacts with a previous history of eye disease is most vulnerable to eye injuries during a mountain hike, as weather and altitudes play a huge factor. Common contact lens bacteria, such as pseudomonas aeruginosa and staphylococcus aureus, are known to trigger corneal infections known as bacterial keratitis.

High altitudes, windy conditions, sunshine and campfires can dry out your eyes and contacts, causing more irritation than you’re used to, so come prepared to deal with any issues that arise. Bring extra lens cleaner to ensure proper care, and renew contact lenses frequently. We also recommend applying eye drops throughout the day.

6. Keep clean with potable water and sanitizer

Naturally, staying outdoors will expose you to some debris and bacteria. Remember to wash your hands with water that is safe to drink, and don’t forget to use soap before eating and touching your face to avoid eye infections. Just like swimming in freshwater lakes, touching your eyes with unwashed hands is a recipe for eye diseases and irritation.  

If you know you’ll be in an area without clean water, bring your own water cooler for this purpose, or plenty of hand sanitizer. Boiling water is one of the best purification methods, making it safe to drink and use in food.

7. Fight allergies before they hit with antihistamines

You’ll never know when allergies strike. A forest, meadow or any place with trees and plants will likely produce pollen or have dust particles floating around. Even something as simple as unpacking a long-unused tent can trigger that dreaded itchiness and dry eyes. Often, if left untreated, allergies develop into allergic conjunctivitis or other eye problems.

Be mindful of packing extra antihistamine pills and eye solutions designed for allergies and dry eyes, or grab the one and only ACUVUE® Theravision® antihistamine contact lenses to revolutionize your allergy and contact lens experience both indoors and in the wild.

8. Follow campfire safety protocols

There’s nothing like the smoky scent of a crackling campfire and the goodies you can cook on it to feast on. Keep in mind that the smoke, ash, and potential sparks flying around can be irritants, and even dangerous to your eyes. BC Parks recommends a four-foot radius around a designated campfire area as part of their campfire safety notice—this ensures that the smoke and sparks don’t waft directly into your eyes. If it’s a windy night or day, you may want to reconsider starting a fire in the first place. Be sure to check if there are fire bans or restrictions in your province before starting to build one.

9. Remember that high altitudes change your eye care needs

High-altitude eye problems aren’t something many hikers really think about until the need arises. Hypoxia of altitude and shifting temperatures are real issues that can affect your visual function in the mountains. Hypoxia can cause corneal swelling, and those with a history of eye disease or procedures should make sure they’re prepared. Cold weather and wind can increase the evaporation of tears, so dry eyes and associated discomfort are a real problem.

When you’re exploring heights, even partial visual disturbances can quickly become dangerous. UV radiation is also stronger at higher altitudes and, therefore, can do more damage faster. Being caught in those conditions without eye drops, goggles or even a mirror or sanitization tools can lead to inflammation or eye damage.

If you’ve been camping recently or are planning on taking a trip, check in with your local FYidoctors clinic for an eye exam to make sure your eyes are ready for adventure.