Avoiding Eye Damage: Keeping your eyes safe in the sun.

Jul 06, 2018
Many people fear the dangerous effects of sun damage and specifically ultraviolet (UV) rays on the skin, but few realize the danger imposed on their eyes.

Many people fear the dangerous effects of sun damage and specifically ultraviolet (UV) rays on the skin, but few realize the danger imposed on their eyes. Whether from natural sunlight or artificial UV rays, UV radiation can damage the eye’s surface tissues as well as the cornea and lens. It can also burn the front surface of the eye, much like a sunburn on the skin.

Just as we protect our skin with sunscreen, we should also remember to protect our eyes and vision with appropriate sunglasses. 

Your Eyes and UV Rays

UV rays are invisible rays that are part of the energy that comes from the sun. Exposure to UVA and UVB rays, two of the three types of UV rays, can have adverse effects on your eyes and vision.

Long-term exposure to these dangerous rays can cause significant damage. It is also important to note that UV radiation can also be given off by artificial sources like welding machines, tanning beds, and lasers.

Short-Term Effects

If you are exposed and unprotected to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time, your eyes are likely to experience an effect called photokeratitis. Photokeratitis is an inflammation of the cornea caused by brief exposure to UV radiation, usually when combined with cold wind and snow. Much like a “sunburn of the eye,” it may be painful and may create symptoms including red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light, and excessive tearing.

Fortunately, this is usually temporary and rarely causes permanent damage to the eyes.

Long-Term Effects:

Long-term exposure to UV radiation can be more serious. Scientific studies and research out of the U.S. space program have shown that exposure to small amounts of UV radiation over a period of many years may increase the chance of developing a cataract and may cause damage to the retina, the nerve-rich lining of the eye that is used for seeing. This damage to the retina is usually not reversible. Cumulative damage of repeated exposure may contribute to chronic eye disease as well as increase the risk of developing skin cancer around the eyelids. Long-term exposure to UV light is also a risk factor in the development of pterygium, a growth that invades the corner of the eyes, and pinguecula, a yellowish, slightly raised lesion that forms on the surface tissue of the white part of your eye.

What you can do to protect your eyes?

Wear Sunglasses! Especially when you are in the sun. Ophthalmologists recommend wearing quality sunglasses that offer good protection and a wide-brimmed hat when working outdoors, participating in outdoor sports, taking a walk, running errands, tanning, or doing anything in the sun.

To provide sufficient protection to your eyes, your sunglasses should:

  • Block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation
  • Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
  • Be perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection
  • Have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition

Just like wearing sunscreen on your skin, your eyes need protection too. Wear those sunglasses! And talk to your doctor about additional ways you can protect your eyes.