When you step outside or look out a window, you probably are not thinking about how the sun is impacting your vision. Even when it’s hiding behind clouds, the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays, can damage our eyes. The sun’s UV rays are the main cause of skin cancer, but they also cause sunburns, premature aging, and eye damage.
It’s important to protect ourselves from the sun all year long, not just during the sunny months.
So, how does one protect their eyes from the sun? It’s simple! Use eyewear with UV-blocking lenses and wear a wide-brimmed hat when outside. Also, don’t forget to slather on the sunscreen to protect your skin, including the area surrounding your eyes.
If you don’t take precautions, eye damage from the sun can lead to vision problems such as:
- Corneal sunburn: Did you know you can get a sunburn on your eye? Sunlight can be even more damaging when it’s reflected off of sand, snow, water, or ice, so keep that in mind when outside. Corneal sunburns, also known as photokeratitis, can cause pain, blurred vision, swelling, headache, tearing, and more. A vision doctor most often diagnoses a corneal sunburn by asking about your recent activities.
- Cataracts: Our eyes have a natural lens. When that lens becomes cloudy, it’s known as a cataract. This can cause double vision, light sensitivity, and bright colors to appear faded. Aging and exposure to UV light without eye protection can cause cataracts to develop.
- Cancer: The exact cause of most eye cancers is still being researched, but we do know of links between eye cancer and other health conditions and lifestyle choices. Researchers theorize that too much exposure to sunlight is a risk factor for uveal or conjunctival melanoma of the eye. Additionally, race/ethnicity, eye color, age, gender, genetics, and family history are all risk factors for eye cancer. Learn more about eye cancer at cancer.org.
- Macular degeneration: The macula is a part of the retina at the back of our eye, and macular degeneration occurs when the macula is damaged. This can lead to blurry, deteriorated vision. High sun exposure increases your risk for macular degeneration, which can develop rapidly or over time as you age.
- Growths on the eye (pterygium): Ultraviolet radiation, sometimes in combination with the wind, can cause pterygium to develop. Also known as surfer’s eye, a pterygium is a benign raised bump on the eyeball that can cause some discomfort and blurred vision. They are mostly seen in 30- to 50-year-olds and are rarely seen in children. Though benign, they can cause a burning feeling or the sensation that something is trapped in the eye.
Eye conditions can become complicated, but protecting our eyes is easy. Wear your hat and sunglasses outside and do the same for the kids!
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