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What Does Sun Damage Do to Your Eyes?

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The Sun’s Effect on Your Eyes

Spending time in the sun can yield many benefits such as providing your body with Vitamin D and releasing serotonin. However, if you don’t take the proper precautions, the sun can have extremely damaging effects on your eyes. 

Types of Harmful UV Rays 

The sun produces different types of UV rays, or ultraviolet rays, that can damage your eyes even if the sky is overcast. This means that although the sun isn’t directly shining on you, the UV rays can still have a negative impact on your eyes. The primary types of UV rays are UVA, UVB, and UVC.

  • UVA rays can easily get past the cornea and affect the eye’s lens and retina. Overexposure from UVA rays can cause the development of cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • UVB rays can be absorbed by the cornea. Damage from UVB rays is linked to multiple eye injuries including photokeratitis and pterygia.
  • UVC rays are considered to be the most harmful type of ultraviolet rays, however, they are largely blocked by the Earth’s ozone layer. 

UV-Related Eye Injuries 

UV rays have an impact on your overall eye health. Short-term or long-term exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays can worsen existing eye conditions and cause new problems to arise. The negative effects of UV rays can be seen in the following eye diseases and conditions: 

  • Cataracts:  When the proteins within the eye’s natural lens clump together, cataracts are formed. This causes a clouding effect on the eye's lens that results in reduced vision. Overexposure to UV rays causes the eye’s proteins to thicken at a faster rate, therefore causing or worsening cataracts. 
  • Macular Degeneration: Research suggests that your eye’s macula, located within the retina, is negatively impacted by UV rays. This results in vision loss and conditions such as farsightedness.
  • Photokeratitis: Similar to your skin, your eyes can experience a sunburn. If overexposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, your cornea can burn, resulting in a painful temporary loss of vision. 
  • Skin Cancer Surrounding the Eyelid: Eyes are not immune to the terrible disease that is skin cancer. UV rays can cause basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma to develop on or around the eyelid. 
  • Pterygium: Sunlight reflected off of surfaces, such as water or snow, can be harmful to your eyes. Pterygium is often referred to as “surfer’s eye” because of the way the water reflects the sun’s harmful rays back to the eye. This condition is a raised bump on the eyeball that starts on the white of the eye and moves towards the cornea. 

Protection Options

You can decrease your chances of suffering from a UV-related eye injury by taking the proper precautions and investing in your eye health. There are multiple ways you can protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. A majority of the protection options are simple and require small but meaningful changes to your daily routine.  

  • Wear Sunglasses: The type of sunglasses you wear matters. Always opt for a pair with 400 UV protection, which is the maximum amount. Your sunglasses should shield your eyes from 99% of harmful UVA and UVB rays. In addition, find a pair that offers extra coverage around the sides of your eyes to ensure full protection. If you are doing sports, such as surfing, that limit your ability to wear sunglasses, you can wear UV-blocking swim goggles. 
  • Wear Wide-Brimmed Hats: Similar to sunglasses, the style of hat you wear matters too. While wearing any hat at all is better than wearing none, a wide-brimmed hat is an ideal choice for blocking the sun. They offer fuller coverage and therefore protect a larger portion of your face and eyes. 
  • Limit Sun Exposure: While staying out of the sun all day isn’t realistic, your body only requires 10-30 minutes of daily sun exposure to obtain a healthy amount of Vitamin D. The less time you spend in the sun, the less likely you are to develop a UV-related eye injury. Try to use your time in the sun wisely, and wear the proper eyewear protection when doing so. 
  • Avoid Tanning Beds: For years, studies have shown the harmful effects tanning beds can have on skin and eye health. Avoid going to tanning beds, as they will increase the chances of developing an eye injury. 

If you believe you are suffering from a UV-related eye injury, schedule a consultation today. 

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.