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Heading To The Beach? Think Twice Before You Dive In Without Goggles

By Essilor News

There's a popular scene in movies and television featuring surfers when the muscled hero (or heroine) is training Rocky Balboa-style for the eventuality of being held under by a wave. Or, to build lung capacity, they're holding some giant stone and running along the sandy bottom of the big blue ocean. It's impressive on screen, but for anyone who's ever taken a trip to the sea, the amazing thing isn't so much the underwater running, but that they're doing it with their movie-star looks and eyes wide open.

After being unexpectedly pounded by a breaker or splashed by a troublemaking sibling any oceangoing swimmer knows that saltwater in the eyes can produce a mighty sting, sometimes right up there with the chlorinated water in backyard swimming pools. But is saltwater irritation bad for the eyes?

Have yourself a good cry at a sappy romantic comedy or spectacular joke and you'll taste the distinctly salty flavor of your own tears. Since our bodies are actually producing a salty solution to lubricate our eyes, the mixture of salt and water is inherently something we're relatively biologically accustomed to. In fact, if you find yourself with a nasty case of conjunctivitis - pink eye - mixing up a little homemade saline solution of non-iodized salt and water to help flush your aggravated eyes can help clear up symptoms.

So why do your eyes burn when you just want to hang ten? For the same reason getting sweat in your eyes almost makes wearing a headband in public worth it: just because your eyes naturally produce a mix of salt and water doesn't mean it's the same mix as the one that's causing that burning sensation. Medical saline - which can stand in for tears in this case - contains about 0.9 percent sodium chloride (salt), while the average salt content in the ocean is more like 3.5 percent. Open your eyes in the Great Salt Lake (4 times saltier than the ocean) or the Dead Sea (the only body of water with a higher salt content) at your own peril!

Of course it's not just the salt content that makes seawater different. Other substances from sand and pollution to microorganisms and bacteria can cause eye irritation that gets erroneously blamed on the water being salty.

So all this salt water talk is well and good, but you've heard of "surfer's eye," and when it comes to sodium chloride in your water you shouldn't take any chances. Surfer's eye - pterygium - has less to do with salt water itself than it does with general eye irritation, whether from sun, wind or, yes, lots of salt water. The condition causes a usually benign membrane to begin growing from the corner of the eye and encroach on the cornea causing discomfort and even affecting vision.

But not to fear, for most vacationers hitting the beach for a summer getaway, the cure for eyes irritated by salt water is some soothing saline solution made from - you guessed it - salt and water.