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How to Protect Your Eyes from the Sun’s Rays

July 07, 2016

You probably know that your skin can get sunburned, but did you also know the same thing can happen to your eyes?

The weather is getting a lot warmer and as you enjoy the 90-degree weather by jet-skiing, surfing or playing golf and tennis, you’re likely exposing your eyes (and the rest of your body) to more UV rays. We’re often concerned about the damage the sun can cause to our skin, but our eyes are just as susceptible. Radiation injuries, which occur when the eyes are overexposed to ultraviolet light during activities like sun-tanning and water sports, can cause pain, light sensitivity and redness. Overexposure to radiation also can cause your corneas to become sunburned, a condition called ultraviolet keratitis.

If you plan to participate in water or other outdoor sports this spring and summer, it’s important to protect your eyes. Here’s what you need to know about suntime eye safety and some tips for preventing potential radiation injuries.

Radiation Exposure & Eye Safety

The sun produces UV rays, even on a cloudy day, which means we’re constantly exposed to ultraviolet light. If you spend a lot of time outdoors without sunglasses, a hat or other protection, this long-term exposure could lead to vision problems. 

If you aren’t wearing sunglasses outside, then your cornea (the front part of the eyes) are directly absorbing UV rays. This continuous exposure over time can cause eye issues such as cataracts, abnormal growths in the eye and macular degeneration, which can lead to blurred vision, difficulty seeing colors and potential blindness.

People who participate in sports like surfing or jet skiing should take extra precautions because sunlight reflected off sand and water actually increases the intensity of UV rays. It’s such a concern that health experts have coined the phrase “surfer’s eye” to describe a condition in which the sun damages the outer layer that covers the eye’s surface. Surfer’s eye occurs when pink tissue begins to grow on the whites of your eyes. In very advanced cases, it can grow to a point where it covers the pupil and begins to affect vision. 

And it’s not just surfers who should be extra cautious. Snowboarders and skiers should, too. Sunlight reflected off snow also increases the intensity of UV rays, and there’s actually a condition called snow blindness. People who live near the North and South Pole and in high altitude areas have an increased risk of suffering from snow blindness because the air is thinner in these areas and doesn’t provide as much protection from the sun’s rays.

How to Prevent UV-Related Eye Damage 

Once sun damage occurs to the eyes, it’s nearly impossible to reverse. The best protection for your eyes is prevention. Here are some rules to follow for better eye safety:

  • Wear sunglasses when you are outdoors, no matter what time of year it is. Make sure they are labeled 100% UV protection.
  • If you play sports outdoors, wear protective eyewear at all times.
  • If you wear glasses, get prescription-strength UV lenses. 
  • If you’re planning to spend a day at the beach or by the pool, also wear a hat with a broad brim to block the sun’s rays.
  • Children, people with light-colored eyes and people who have had cataract surgery have an increased risk of eye damage from UV rays. If you take photosensitizing medications, which makes the skin more sensitive to light, you also are very susceptible to sun-related eye damage. If you fit any of these descriptions or play outdoor sports, please take the proper precautions to protect your eyes.
Our eyes are one of the body’s most vital organs. Exposing them to the sun’s rays for extended periods may cause permanent damage that could affect your vision long term. If you are going outside, grab sunglasses and a hat before you head out the door. This extra step could make all the difference.

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