For most of us, the eyes are the most cherished of our senses. Yet we potentially expose them to danger simply by going outside. Over time, the sun’s rays can seriously damage the eyes and surrounding skin, sometimes leading to vision loss and conditions from cataracts and macular degeneration to eye and eyelid cancers. However, simple daily protective strategies will help keep our eyes and the sensitive skin around them healthy.
In the short term, exposure to the sun can cause sunburn on the eye, redness, blurry vision, gritty feeling, pain, tearing, swelling, sensitivity to bright light, seeing halos, temporary vision loss, and twitching eyelids. Usually symptoms go away on their own after a little rest. You should avoid exposure to the sun while you recover. If you wear contact lenses, you should remove them when symptoms start.
Harmful UV rays can also cause long-term damage. If you continually go outside without using UV protection, you may develop more serious conditions.
Cataract: The eye's lens clouds over, leading to blurry vision.
Pterygium: A growth that develops in the corner of the eye. It is usually non-cancerous, but it can grow to cover the cornea and block vision. Pterygium requires surgery to be removed.
Macular degeneration: If you retain consistent damage to your retina over time, you can damage the macula, or sharp vision center of the retina. While macular degeneration is usually associated with people over the age of 60, excessive UV exposure is a potential cause.
Skin cancer: The skin around your eyelids is very sensitive. With excessive UV exposure, the eyelids can develop cancerous lesions that disfigure the face. Lesions can develop on the eyelids, under the eyebrows, in corners of the eye, and other places on the face.
Sun damage is easy to prevent. Simply use common sense and wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim when you go outside.
Choose sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays. If you're not sure, check the label when you're in the store. If the label doesn't say it blocks 99% or 100% UVA and UVB light, don't buy the sunglasses. Cheaper quality sunglasses use tinted glass that reduces glare but doesn't protect against UV light.
If you can find them, it helps to choose polarized sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses have vertical lines printed on the surface of the glass that neutralize glare. These lines are invisible to the naked eye, but they make a huge difference during dawn and dusk, when the glare of the sun shines directly into your eyes. Polarized sunglasses also protect against UVA and UVB rays.
Your sunglasses should completely cover your eyes. If they let sunlight directly into your field of vision, they don't protect you enough. Choose a pair of wraparound sunglasses that fit closely to your face for greater protection. Or choose sunglasses with large lenses that shield your eyes at every angle.
If you wear contact lenses, you should still use sunglasses when you go outside. Most contacts don't protect your eyes from UV rays, so you shouldn't rely on them. Ask your optometrist if your contact lenses have UVA and UVB protection.
Wear a Hat
Hats with brims create personal shade for you. You can prevent up to half of the sun's rays from reaching your face. A brim of three inches or more is more effective in blocking UV light. You can even choose a hat that reflects your style: a floppy hat, a baseball cap, and a tinted visor are all good stylish choices.
Don't forget to use proper UV protection even on cloudy and overcast days. The sun's rays still make it through clouds and gloom. Protect your eyes from temporary and permanent damage by following our tips.
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