Eye Health: Protecting The Eyes From Sun Damage Health Tips

While we all know that the powerful rays from the sun can damage our skin which can cause sunburn and lead to long-term skin conditions such as skin cancer, many of us do not realise that the sun may be damaging our eyes too.

How does the sun cause damage to our eyes?

The sun gives off UV radiation. The more UV radiation our eyes are exposed to, the more it can damage the eyes through a cumulative effect. As a result, UV rays can cause permanent damage to our eyesight. However, because of the cumulative effect, it is barely noticeable as the damage can build up subtly over time.

Our eyes are incredible at helping us to protect our eyesight from harmful elements such as UV radiation. The UV radiation is comprised of three different wavelengths, UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC radiation is generally filtered out through the atmosphere of the earth. However, UVB and UVA can travel directly to our eyes. UVB radiation is usually absorbed through the cornea of the eye, so it does not pass through to the retina. However, UVA can penetrate the cornea, lens and retina of the eye, which can cause eye problems.

To help filter out this radiation and protect the eyes, sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection are essential on sunny days but even cloudy days too as the UV can be so strong it can power through clouds.

What eye problems can sun damage cause?

With high levels of UV exposure, our eyes may develop one of the following conditions;

  • Photokeratitis – This is a short-term, but incredibly painful condition where the cornea becomes burnt. This can happen when individuals do not wear sunglasses, and there is a lot of reflected light, such as on a sunny beach or in snowy conditions. It can lead to a blurred vision, gritty sensation, lots of blinking, eye-watering and difficulty in looking at bright lights.
  • Skin cancer – Skin cancer can form on both the upper and lower eyelid as well as the skin around the eyes. If you spot a lesion around the eye, you should visit a doctor or dermatologist for an examination.
  • Pterygium – This is a growth which can develop in the corner of the eye. It is non-cancerous, but can grow to obstruct the cornea and your vision. This condition is also known as ‘surfer’s eye’ as it typically occurs in people who spend a lot of time outdoors with a great deal of exposure to UV light.
  • Cataracts – Cataracts gradually cloud over the lens to reduce and eventually destroy vision. Symptoms of this condition include blurriness and halos around lights.
  • Macular degeneration – This can eventually lead to the loss of central vision, and it is believed that long-term UV radiation may contribute to macular degeneration.

How to protect your eyes from sun and UV damage

So with this in mind, what can we do in order to maintain our eye health and prevent one of the conditions above occurring?

1. Sunglasses

Sunglasses are an essential accessory to help protect your eyes from the harmful effects of the sun. Make sure they offer the maximum protection by choosing lenses that block more than 99% of UVA and UVB rays. You should also look for sunglasses with large lenses or wraparound style for added protection. Polarised options are a great choice too as they can help to reduce glare, which can cause headaches.

2. Hat

Wearing a hat will not only protect your skin from the sun, but your eyes too, especially if it is a broad-rimmed hat. A hat should not be a substitute for sunglasses, though. It is best to wear both for a better level of protection.

3. Wear sunglasses even when it’s cloudy

Don’t assume that just because it is overcast that there is no UV radiation. The UV rays can easily pass through haze, and thin clouds, so make sure to stay protected even if there isn’t bright sunshine.

4. Don’t look directly at the sun

Whether it’s a sunny day or a solar eclipse, it can be incredibly tempting to look at the sun. However, this can cause permanent eyesight damage as it can harm the retina in your eyes.

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