Just as the sun can burn our skin, it can burn the surface of the eye, and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is linked to serious eye conditions.
Let's look at how the sun rays can damage your eyes. [ Hover over the icons below to see each condition ]
1 Photokeratitis: Caused by the sun reflecting off surfaces, or by staring at the sun without protection.
2 Snow Blindness: This happens when the eye is exposed to ultraviolet rays reflected off ice or snow, causing eye pain.
3 Hyperopia: Known as farsightedness. Most people with hyperopia see distant objects more clearly than objects that are near.
4 Myopia: Caused by the sun reflecting off surfaces, or by staring at the sun without protection.
5 Surfer’s Eye: Sun rays can damage the eyes by stimulating a growth around the conjunctiva or a mucus membrane that protects the inside of the eye.
6 Corneal Sunburn: This is the result of high, short-term exposure to UVB rays. It can cause temporary loss of vision.
7 Eye Lens Damage: The eye lens helps to filter ultraviolet rays. After absorbing the rays over a long period, the eye lens can turn yellow and develop cataracts.
8 Cornea Damage: The cornea, just like the eye lens, filters ultraviolet rays entering the eyes and can be damaged over time.
9 Ultraviolet Dosage and Colour Naming: UV rays can cause discolouration of the eyes. People living in high UV areas often show blue or yellow deficiency, while those in low UV areas do not.
10 Cataracts: UV radiation is one cause of cataracts, aging is another. Types include Subcapsular and Cortical Cataracts.
11 Myopia: This occurs when the eye fluid doesn’t circulate as it should, leading to damage of the optic nerves. Glaucoma can also result from surgery to correct a cataract.
12 Pinguecula: Ultraviolet radiation is the main cause of this - a yellowish thickening of the conjunctiva on the white of the eye.
13 Pterygium: Ultraviolet light is the key factor in this triangular-shaped growth on the white of the eye.
14 Astigmatism: This causes blurred vision when sunlight focuses on multiple points either behind or in front of the retina. It is usually related to an incorrectly shaped cornea.
15 Red eye: A red eye that gets worse during the day is most likely caused by environmental factors, including sunlight.
16 Eyelid Cancer: Most of the exposure to the sun falls on the lower eyelid and this can cause cancer of the eyelid.
Below are different kinds of eye cancers due to life-long exposure to the sun:
[ Hover over icons for symptoms ]
[ Hover over icons for symptoms ]
Basal cell carcinomas
This can appear as simple pigmentation, but more often it shows up as a red nodule on the upper eyelid. These tumours can grow around the eye’s orbit but almost never metastasise.
Metastatic cancer refers to the location of cancer that has spread from a primary site. When symptoms of eye cancer are diagnosed as secondary, this indicates a primary cancer elsewhere.
Sebaceous gland carcinomas
One of the rarest forms of cancer of the eye, symptoms are similar to conjunctivitis or a stye on the upper eyelid, and are most common in middle-aged people.
Merkel cell carcinoma
Highly malignant but quite rare, this form of eye cancer is more commonly found in women over the age of 50 and most often affects the upper eyelid. It usually presents as a purple-red nodule.
Squamous cell carcinomas
This affects the membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the eyeball, and rarely spreads beyond the surrounding area. Symptoms range from inflammation, visible tumour or lesions around the eye.
Adenocarcinomas of the eye affect the pigment cell layer that feeds the retina and is usually only identified during an eye exam.
This can affect any area including the orbit, iris, membrane and skin around the eye. Symptoms are subtle and are usually only picked up during eye examinations.
This form usually affects both eyes and can cause blurred vision, redness, floaters in the field of vision, sensitivity to light and, less commonly, eye pain.
Commonly found in HIV sufferers, transplant patients, and the elderly, this cancer presents symptoms of reddish-pink conjunctival tumour and, or, a purple tumour of the eyelid.
Peripheral nerve sheath tumour
Affecting the soft tissue around the optic nerve, this can adversely affect vision. There are strong genetic links with this form of cancer.
‘Eye protection by way of sunglasses or goggles is recommended to prevent damage from UV light, especially when we are exposed to UV light for prolonged periods of time.’ Raj Das-Bhaumik, Consultant Ophthalmic Plastic Surgeon, Moorfields Eye Hospital, London.