When you’ve spent too long in the sun unprotected by sunscreen, your skin burns, telling you you’ve overdone it! Chances are, reminders of the discomfort will inspire you to apply sunscreen next time.
Your eyes also sustain damage with too much time in the sun, unprotected from harmful UV rays. But you won’t experience the effects of the damage — conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration — until decades down the road. By the time these conditions are diagnosed, the damage cannot be undone.
Who needs to be careful about UV exposure?
UV rays damage everyone’s eyes. But some people are at higher risk of eye damage. For example, if you have light-colored eyes, including blue, hazel and green, you have a higher risk of developing UV-related eye damage because these eyes have less melanin than brown eyes do. Similar to melanin in the skin, the pigment in the eyes helps protect the retina from UV damage.
People who work outdoors or who spend a lot of time outside also need to be extra careful to protect their eyes from UV exposure, regardless of their eye color. The length of time you spend outdoors increases your risk of eye damage from the sun. Research indicates that individuals who spent more time in the sun were diagnosed with cataracts 8-10 years before those who spent more time in the shade.
Please note that UV radiation from a tanning bed has similar effects on the eyes as sun exposure.
How do you protect your eyes from UV rays?
- Choose “polarized” sunglasses to reduce the amount of reflecting light that enters the eyes. They also help reduce glare and reflections, and events make images appear sharper and clearer, increasing visual clarity and comfort.
- Look for “100% UV protection” or “UV400” block UV-A and UV-B rays.
- Wrap-around-style sunglasses protect your eyes from the sides and the front, so they are the best option for ultimate protection.
- Even if your contact lenses protect from UV rays, still wear UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Wear a hat in addition to sunglasses. They give you extra shade.
- Make wearing sunglasses a habit. Wear them when you’re driving, playing outside, sitting by the lake or doing yard work. It’s important to know that UV rays pass through clouds and haze. So it’s important to wear sunglasses on cloudy days, as well as sunny days.
What other factors intensify UV rays?
Time of day. Reflection. Altitude.
- The sun is strongest from around noon through the afternoon hours. The UV rays will cause more damage at these times than in the morning or early evening.
- Reflection makes UV rays stronger. So keep the sunglasses on at the pool or lake. Sand can also reflect UV rays. (In the winter, the sun reflects off the snow. So goggles or sunglasses are important when skiing.)
- UV exposure increases with altitude. So if you’re going hiking, be sure to wear your sunglasses.
How else can I protect my eyes during the summer?
Different activities have different eye protection you can use.
- Wear goggles while swimming. Goggles protect eyes in the pool from chlorine and other chemicals in the water. In lakes, goggles protect your eyes from potentially harmful bacteria. If you wear contacts, discard any contact lenses after you swim. Contact lenses can harbor bacteria, which can, in turn, increase your risk for eye infections.
- Wear safety glasses when appropriate. If you’re working on a home-improvement project or activity where objects might kick off dust, materials or other potential eye irritants, be sure to wear safety glasses. Wrap-around eyewear helps protect the eyes from the side.
- Consider eye protection when playing sports like baseball or lacrosse. Protective eyewear is helpful when playing sports like baseball or lacrosse, given the nature of the sport and the balls for these particular sports.
Welia Health is here to help.
Remember, yearly eye exams are important for optimal eye health. To schedule your appointment with a Welia Health optometrist at the Eye Care Center, simply call 320.679.2020.