Smiling man wearing sunglasses outdoors

The importance of protecting your eyes from the sun

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Summer is right around the corner, and like many, you are likely looking forward to enjoying the warm weather, sunshine, and outdoors. While most of us understand the dangers that too much sun exposure can have on our skin, many are not aware that sunlight can also pose a risk to our eyes. According to the American Optometric Association, ultraviolet radiation (UV) can play a significant factor in the development of various eye conditions, including age-related cataracts, pterygium, skin cancer on and around the eye, photokeratitis and corneal degenerative changes. It may also contribute to age-related macular degeneration.

  • Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the eyes naturally clear lens. Cataracts cause progressive vision loss and are one of the most common causes of treatable blindness. Roughly 10% of cataract cases are attributable to UV exposure. Research suggests that certain types of cataracts are associated with higher exposure to UV and UV-B radiation.
  • Pterygium is a common, noncancerous growth of tissue on the conjunctiva (white of the eye) that may extend onto the cornea which can affect vision. It is most common in individual’s who spend a lot of time outdoors as its prevalence is related to UV exposure.
  • Ultraviolet Keratitis, also known at photokeratitis is a painful eye condition that is caused by excessive (UV) exposure. It can be compared to a sunburn of the eyes and may result in temporary loss of vision.
  • Conjunctival cancer: are malignant cancers can grow on the surface of the eye, most commonly squamous carcinoma, malignant melanoma, and lymphoma.
  • Skin cancer: Roughly 10% of all skin cancers occur on the eyelid, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
  • Age-related macular degeneration: UV rays may lead to macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of vision loss for Americans over the age of 55.

When it comes to the risks involved with UV exposure, no one is immune. Yet, by following some simple tips, you and your loved ones can enjoy the outdoors while staying protected all year long:

  • Wear UV protective sunglasses: Yes, they are fashionable, but sunglasses are also one of the best forms of eye protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Choose a pair that blocks 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. Sun damage to the eyes can occur anytime so wear sunglasses year-round.
  • Wear SPF 15 or higher: It is important to protect your skin when you take off your shades. So always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Choose one that is safe for the face and eyes.
  • Wear a hat: Hats are another form of protection against damaging UV rays. Choose one with at least a three-inch brim to protect your face and head.
  • Never look directly at the sun: Looking directly at the sun can lead to damage of the eye’s retina.
  • Protect your eyes even when it’s cloudy: Always protect your eyes when outdoors. Even when it is cloudy, the sun’s rays cause damage.
  • Take extra precaution while in UV-intense conditions: Sunlight is the strongest in the middle of the day and early afternoon. Seek shade when the sun is most intense. Remember, the sun’s rays are more powerful in higher altitudes and when reflected off the water, ice, or snow. So, keep well-protected while swimming, skiing, and boating.
  • Everyone needs protection: No one is immune to the damage that UV radiation can cause the eyes and skin. Make sure children and seniors are also well protected with sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses.

Spending time outdoors can still be fun as long as it is done carefully and with precaution. Prevent sun damage before it starts by taking these simple steps. If you are experiencing problems with your eyes or eyelids, visit your physician or eye doctor.

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