We’re all aware of the damage the sun can do to our skin and are bombarded with messages on sun safety, covering up and applying a high-factor sun cream. But are we aware of just how much damage the sun’s rays can do to the eyes? From painful sunburn to the development of serious eye cancers, sunlight can have a serious effect on our eye health. We’ve explored the potential risks the sun presents to the eyes and the steps we can take to protect ourselves. Check out our interactive version by clicking here.
Why does UV light Damage the Eye?
Excessive UV radiation has a detrimental effect on our cells and can even damage our DNA, leading to genetic mutations and cancer. Lower levels of damage can slow cell growth and even age our cells prematurely. The eye is a sensitive structure, and the skin surrounding it fragile, leaving it prone to injury through contact with UV light. The structures of the eye, including the lens, cornea and retina are all designed to filter UV radiation but over time and with excessive exposure to the sun, they can become less efficient at this. Damage can result, leading to diseases of the eye and problems with vision.
Short-Term Sun Damage
Some effects of sun damage are short term, instantly apparent, and largely repairable. Photokeratitis, essentially sunburn of the cornea, is caused by intense exposure to sunlight. Reflection of the sun from a surface such as water or snow is often the culprit. It can cause redness, pain, loss of vision and a feeling of gritty eyes but is usually treatable with antibiotic drops, patches and the amazing ability of the cornea to regenerate. Photoconjunctivitis is a similar condition that causes inflammation of the tissues lining the eye socket. Although both conditions are painful, they are reversible and you should seek medical attention if you suffer any of the symptoms outlined above.
Long-Term Sun Damage
Other conditions occur because of the build-up of sun damage throughout a lifetime. Cataracts are a common condition that are linked to excessive exposure to the sun. Evidence suggests that those who are exposed to greater levels of UV light will develop cataracts at a younger age. Macular degeneration is another aspect of age-related eye damage that has been linked with the harmful effects of sunlight. The macula is an area of the retina associated with transmitting images to the brain, and damage to this region will invariably lead to sight loss. Growths across the conjunctiva, the membrane covering the eye, are a further outcome of high levels of UV exposure leading to unsightly conditions such as Pinguecula and Pterygium, which can thicken and disfigure the eye. Perhaps the most concerning long-term effect of sun exposure is cancer of the eye itself, or of the eyelid. Symptoms can include shadowed or blurred vision and dark patches moving across the eye. Lumps in or around the eyelid can also be a cause for concern and if you suffer any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor or optician.
How to Protect your Eyes against Sun Damage
Luckily there are several small steps you can take to ensure great eye protection as much of the eye damage outlined above is preventable. Remember that children are particularly vulnerable to eye damage as they are likely to spend more time outside. In addition to this, the lens and cornea of a child is clearer than those of an adult and so lets in more harmful UV radiation. Follow our eye-care tips to protect your eyes from the dangers of sunlight.
- Wear Sunglasses – It sounds obvious but wearing good quality sunglasses will filter out most harmful UV light. Wrap around styles offer the most protection and remember, sunlight can even penetrate hazy cloud.
- Add UV protection to your glasses and contact lenses – Opting for designs with inbuilt UV protection will mean your eyes are defended against sunlight most of the time. Remember though that sunglasses will still offer optimum protection on bright days.
- Wear a Hat – A hat can shield your eyes from UV rays. Choose wide-brimmed styles that offer maximum protection.
- Avoid Prolonged Periods in Bright Sun – This is particularly crucial for children whose eyes are more sensitive. Take regular breaks from direct sunlight and relax in the shade.
Remember that sun damage can occur at any time of year, so practice good sun safety all year round to ensure maximum protection for your eyes and those of your family.
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