It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you live or what time of year it is, protecting your eyes from the harmful effects of the sun is vitally important. We all know that prolonged exposure to the sun can cause our skin to burn, but many people remain blissfully unaware of the impact that UV light can have on their eyes and vision. This means that they could be unnecessarily compromising their long-term eye health and eyesight – something which could have a huge impact on their work, recreational activities and more.
UV light damages our eyes in pretty much the way that it damages our skin. UVA and UVB rays that can reach the earth are invisible wavelengths of energy that produce DNA changes in the cells of our body. In our skin, this leads to tanning and, if prolonged, burning. In our eyes, there is a range of consequences that mean that wearing sun protection is important for the health of our eyes.
Skin cancer is one of the most common types of all cancers, and it can affect anywhere on the body, including the delicate skin around the eyes. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that eyelid skin cancers account for between 5-10% of all skin cancers.
Skin cancer occurs when one of the three different types of cells in our skin is altered by UV damage, causing the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Eventually, if treatment isn’t prompt, the cells can spread to other places in our body through the lymphatic system. While most skin cancers can be treated successfully if caught early, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancerous cells around the eyes by protecting your eyes as well as your body from the harmful effects of the sun.
Cataracts occur when the cells in the natural lens of the eye begin to change, causing the proteins that are naturally found there to clump together and cause frosting and clouding that makes it difficult to see clearly. It is thought that at least 10% of cataract cases are attributed to avoidable UV-related damage. The only treatment for cataracts is a surgical replacement of the natural lens with an artificial alternative.
This condition causes the patient to experience painful burning of the cornea. It is more commonly seen in people who ski or hike because they are more likely to reach higher altitudes where the sun’s power is more intense. It also occurs when the sun reflects off of substances such as water, ice, and snow.
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is one of the main causes of growths called pterygia. A pterygium is a pinkish, triangular tissue growth that occurs on the cornea of the eye. Although benign, it can cause visual impairment if it grows too large, as well as looking unsightly. In these instances, surgical removal may be needed. However, pterygia can potentially be prevented by wearing sunglasses.
Fortunately, there are things that can be done to protect our eyes from the harmful effects of the sun. One of the most obvious is to wear sunglasses when we are outdoors. However, not all sunglasses are equally effective at protecting the eyes. Look for those which have a sticker or label attached to show that they have been proven to be effective at blocking 100% of harmful UV light. Where possible, choose larger frames and lenses to give your eyes the maximum protection. Wraparound styles are particularly good at blocking out the light that may enter at the sides of your eyes. If you already have sunglasses, you can ask your vision center to test them to check out how effective they are against UV light. Wear sunglasses all year round when you are out in the sun, regardless of how warm it is.
Wearing a hat when you are in the sun can also be effective at protecting your eyes from the harmful effects of the sun and have been shown to help block as much as 50% of UV light from your eyes and face. Choose a style with a wide brim or a baseball-cap design which will help to shade the area above your sunglasses, preventing the light from entering from this angle.
For more advice on sun protection and why it is so important to protect your eyes from the harmful effects of the sun, please get in touch with our team.