The Importance of Protecting Your Eyes From the Sun

Do you know that your eyes can get sunburned? If you’re like most of the patients we treat at Atlanta Vision Cataract & Laser Center, you know all about the risk of skin cancer from sun exposure, but you may not realize your eyes are also susceptible to sun damage. And you’re not alone. Fewer than 10% of all Americans are aware that ultraviolet (UV) light damages their eyes.

UV light doesn’t just affect the outer surface of your eyes, either. It penetrates deep into the ocular tissues, potentially causing eye diseases that affect your vision. Here’s a look at the problems you can develop when your eyes aren’t protected from the sun.

Photokeratitis: The eye’s version of sunburn

Photokeratitis, or corneal sunburn, most often occurs after you’ve spent hours at the beach or out in the snow, where your exposure to UV light is magnified as it’s reflected off water, sand, and snow. But brief exposure to intense sunlight can also cause photokeratitis.

When your cornea absorbs sunlight, the UV-B rays destroy cells. As a result, you develop extreme pain, blurred vision, and in severe cases, temporary blindness. Unlike other eye problems that the sun causes, photokeratitis heals without causing permanent damage. But ongoing exposure to UV-B rays may lead to degenerative changes.

Keratoconus: Corneal thinning aggravated by UV light

Keratoconus develops when your cornea gradually but progressively becomes thinner. As a result, the middle of the cornea starts to bulge outward, creating a cone-like shape rather than the typical dome shape that’s essential for normal vision.

The experts believe that keratoconus may develop when the cornea becomes more susceptible to oxidative damage. Since exposure to UV rays from the sun cause oxidative damage, preventing keratoconus is one more reason to protect your eyes from the sun.

When it goes untreated, keratoconus continues to worsen and affect your vision. We perform one of today’s most effective procedures, collagen cross-linking, to strengthen your cornea and stop progressive changes.

Pterygium: Abnormal growth caused by the sun

Pterygium is an abnormal growth of tissue that’s the result of exposure to UV light. The fleshy tissue starts as a small growth in the corner of your eye, then it gradually spreads toward the middle. When it goes untreated, pterygium can get large enough to cover the cornea and affect your vision.

This condition is often called surfer’s eye because of the amount of time surfers spend on the water, where they get the double-whammy of direct and reflected sunlight. Skiers are also at risk for pterygium due to the significant amount of sunlight that’s reflected by snow.

The bottom line is that anyone who spends a lot of time in the sunlight without eye protection has a higher chance of developing this condition.

Cataracts: Long-term sun exposure damages the lens

It’s estimated that 10-20% of cataracts are directly caused by UV light. When you have a cataract, the lens in your eye becomes cloudy as proteins naturally found in the lens clump together.

UV light triggers harmful chemical reactions in the lens that contribute to this abnormal protein clumping. As a result, your risk of developing a cataract increases every time your eyes absorb UV light.

Eyelid and eye cancers: More common than you may know

Just like all the skin on your body, your eyelids can develop cancer from UV light. Skin cancers of the eyelid represent 5-10% of all skin cancers. Eyelid cancers usually appear on the lower lid, where you may notice a bump that bleeds or a pigmented lesion that has an irregular shape.

Other types of eye cancers are also directly associated with unprotected sun exposure. Most of them are rare, but one type, conjunctival cancer, has been on the rise over the last decade.

Prevent eye problems: Follow these steps to protect your eyes

We have four recommendations to help prevent sun-related eye conditions:

Wear UV-blocking sunglasses

Protective sunglasses are a must for blocking the effect of the sun. Choose sunglasses that block UV-A and UV-B rays. The label should say they provide 100% UV protection or UV400. Wraparound sunglasses are the best because they block sunlight from the side.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat

A wide-brimmed hat blocks about half of the UV radiation reaching your eyes. It also reduces the amount of sun that can reach your eyes from above, below, or the sides of your sunglasses.

Take extra care in UV-intense conditions

UV radiation is most intense between 10am and 3pm and when you’re near water, sand, and snow. Be extra diligent about wearing sunglasses and a hat when you’re in a UV-intense situation.

Don’t let clouds fool you

Remember that you’re not safe on an overcast day. UV rays come through clouds, so your eyes are still exposed to damaging light.

Routine eye care is also an important preventive measure. When we find eye problems at an early stage, we can begin treatment to maintain healthy vision. To schedule an appointment, call Atlanta Vision Cataract & Laser Center or use the online booking feature.

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