The days are longer, the sun is hotter, the beach beckons and out comes the sunscreen. But summer revelers looking forward to sizzling hot fun in the sun shouldn’t overlook their eyes when it comes to protecting themselves from damaging ultraviolet rays. In support of UV Safety Month in July, Golden Eye Optometry joins the Academy in sharing information on how to keep eyes safe from sun damage. Excess sun exposure can put people at risk of serious short-term and long-term eye problems.
Sunlight is just one of the many types of energy that the sun releases. Heat is another and Ultraviolet (UV) rays are a third. And while many know that UV rays can cause skin damage, such as sun burn or skin cancer, few people realize that UV rays can also damage vision.
UV rays can attribute to several different eye problems, including:
Macular Degeneration: The leading cause of vision loss for older Americans, macular degeneration affects the part of the retina (the macula) responsible for the sharp, central vision.
Cataracts: UV rays may also contribute to some kinds of cataracts, which is the clouding of the eye’s natural lens.
Pterygium: Another UV-related problem, pterygium is a growth on the white of the eye that can eventually block vision.
Corneal Sunburn: Photokeratitis, better known as corneal sunburn, can be extremely painful. It is the result of high short-term exposure to UV-B rays.
Skin Cancer: Prolonged exposure to UV rays can result in skin cancer around the eyelids.
Here are a few things people can do to cut their risk of eye damage from the sun:
Wear the right sunglasses – Look for those labeled “UV400” or “100 percent UV protection” when buying sunglasses. Less costly sunglasses with this label can be just as effective as the expensive kind. Darkness or color doesn’t indicate strength of UV protection. UV rays can go through clouds, so wear sunglasses even on overcast days. And while contacts may offer some benefit, they cannot protect the entire eye area from burning rays.
Don’t stare at the sun – Sun worshippers take note: directly gazing at the sun can burn holes in the retina, the light-sensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye needed for central vision. This condition is called solar retinopathy. While rare, the damage is irreversible.
Check your medication labels – Some medications can make the eyes more vulnerable to UV ray damage, according to a sun safety survey by the American Academy of Ophthalmologists. These include certain antibiotics, birth control and estrogen pills, and psoriasis treatments containing psoralen. Check the labels on your prescriptions to see if they cause photosensitivity. If so, make sure to protect your skin and eyes or avoid sun exposure when possible.
Put a lid on it – In addition to shades, consider wearing a hat with broad brim. They have been shown to significantly cut exposure to harmful rays. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Don’t drive without UV eye protection – Don’t assume that car windows are protecting you from UV light. A recent study found that side windows blocked only 71 percent of rays, compared to 96 percent in the windshield. Only 14 percent of side windows provided a high enough level of protection, the researchers found. So when you buckle up, make sure you are wearing glasses or sunglasses with the right UV protection.
An optometrist can make specific recommendations to make sure an individual’s eyes are well protected from UV radiation’s harmful effects. A comprehensive eye exam can identify early onset of eye-health conditions that may not have apparent symptoms.
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