Here Comes the Sun; Protect Your Eyes from It

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”—Benjamin Franklin

“Don’t look directly into the sun.”—Mom

When it comes to protecting yourself from the harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light, don’t overlook your eyes.

With summer comes increased time outdoors and extra attention to sunscreen. But UV radiation can be as damaging to your eyes as it is to your skin.

The short-term effects of UV exposure can include photokeratitis, essentially sunburn on your cornea. Although the condition typically subsides on its own, it can be painful. And your mom was right: Staring directly into the sun—even for a brief period—can cause retinal damage.

Progressive exposure to UV light can contribute to additional conditions, including:

  • Cataracts
  • Macular degeneration
  • Pterygia, a fibrous tissue growth that can spread to the cornea and affect vision
  • Pingueculae, a yellowish lesion that forms near the edge of your cornea

Because there is no treatment to reverse the effects of macular degeneration and cataracts correction requires surgery, prevention is the best remedy for sun-related eye damage. One of the best sources of eye protection is a good pair of sunglasses.

Sunglasses don’t have to be expensive to be effective. The two most important factors to consider when choosing sunglasses are:

  • The level of UV protection
  • Aesthetics (you want to buy sunglasses you’ll actually wear)

The most harmful ranges of UV light to the eyes are ultraviolet A (UVA), also known as long wave, and ultraviolet B (UVB), also known as medium wave. Your sunglasses should block at least 98 percent of both UVA and UVB rays, as well as blue light, visible light waves that contribute to glare. Most sunglasses feature a sticker or tag listing the range of protection.

If you have more questions about the sun’s damaging effects to the eyes or need to schedule an eye exam, please contact an ophthalmologist near you.