Most people take ample precautions to protect their skin from the summer sun, which is known to cause skin cancer. But, did you know your eyes are equally as vulnerable from long-term sun exposure?
The same UV light that damages the DNA in your skin cells can also damage the surface tissue of your eyes, as well as the cornea, retina, and lens. Minimizing outdoor time during peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and faithfully wearing high-quality sunglasses with UV-blocking lenses are the best ways to protect your eyes.
Most Common Types Of Sun Damage To The Eyes
Sun exposure has been linked to a higher risk of several eye conditions, such as:
Most people are familiar with cataracts, which proportionally lead to reduced vision as they develop, and are a natural part of the aging process. Without treatment, cataracts will eventually lead to blindness. What many people don’t realize is that your risk of developing cataracts increases if your eyes are damaged by the sun.
Too much sun exposure can mean developing cataracts at a younger age than you would have or cataracts that develop faster, more rapidly diminishing your vision without accurate diagnosis and treatment. It is believed that about one in ten people (10%) develop cataracts solely as the result of sun damage.
Another age-related cause of vision loss is macular degeneration. Sun exposure is a direct cause, resulting in UV-related damage to the central portion of the retina. Once it is damaged, the retina can no longer communicate well with the brain, which leads to blurriness, blind spots, or distorted areas of visions. The earlier it is caught, the slower your vision loss will be, which is why we recommend downloading the Amsler Grid and testing your vision on a regular basis.
Just like skin, the eyes are also prone to cancer. Like many skin cancers, eye cancers can take years to develop but can have detrimental effects if they aren’t caught early and treated immediately. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 5% to 10% of all skin cancers are found on the eyelids or tissue around the eye.
Growths on and around the eye
The skin around the eyes is very sensitive and can develop growths, similar to moles or skin tags, and can also develop growths on the surface of the eye. One of the most common conditions, pterygium (called “surfer’s eye), is a non-cancerous growth that develops on the cornea and conjunctiva. It is typically diagnosed in surfers, farmers, fishermen, skiers, and others who spend ample time outdoors and without proper protection.
Snow blindness (photokeratitis) occurs when the eyes are damaged as the result of the exponential UV effect created by reflective surfaces such as snow, water, ice, or sand. It can happen rather suddenly and is very painful because the cornea is burned by the UV rays. It is most common in skiers, surfers, and hikers who hike at high altitudes where the sun’s rays are even stronger.
Simple Steps to Protect Your Eyes From Sun Damage
The good news is that it’s very easy to protect your eyes so you can enjoy as much time as you want outdoors.
Remember that it is a year-round endeavor
We think about sun damage the most during the summer, but the reality is that the sun shines year-round. Take the following precautions every single day, regardless of the season for the most thorough UV protection.
Wear a hat to avoid sun damage
Hats are very effective at keeping the sun from shining directly in your eyes, or around the borders of your sunglasses. The broader the brim (at least 3-inches), the better. If you aren’t able to keep in the shade, make sure you’re wearing your hat. In addition to protecting your eyes, hats also protect the skin on your face, which is the most common location for most sun-related cancers.
Invest in high-quality UV-blocking sunglasses
Everyone from babies on up should be wearing high-quality, UV-blocking sunglasses outside, on bikes, or in the car. You are looking for sunglasses that advertise 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. There are plenty of affordable options out there, so you don’t need to break the bank. Your eye doctor can help you select affordable options that look great and offer premium UV protection for the whole family.
If you and/or your children are active and you worry about losing them, purchase a pair of eyeglass retainers (such as Croakies or Chums) that make sure your glasses stay on your body – even if they get knocked off your face. Click Here to learn how to help children adjust their eyeglasses more comfortably.
Never look directly at the sun
Never, ever look directly at the sun, and that includes cloudy days. Make sure your children understand that clouds do not block UVA and UVB rays, so even peering at the sun on an exceptionally cloudy day can cause permanent sun damage to the eyes.
Avoid tanning beds
If you use tanning beds, know that you are being exposed to strong doses of UVA and UVB rays. Those who regularly use tanning beds are 75% more likely to develop skin cancer before age 35, and significantly increase their chances of developing all of the conditions we listed above (cataracts, macular degeneration, eye and eyelid cancers, etc.). Click Here to read what the American Academy of Ophthalmology has to say about indoor tanning beds and eye health.
Visit your eye doctor regularly
In almost all cases, the sooner we diagnose a potential eye condition the more quickly we can treat it and minimize the long term effects. Visit your eye doctor routinely to have your eyes examined, and make sure to let him/her know if your job or your recreational hobbies put you at risk for excessive sun exposure so s/he knows to pay careful attention.
Do Not Neglect Your Eyes
Are you overdue for an eye appointment? Contact the Atlanta Eye Institute and schedule an appointment for yourself and the whole family.