The Grand Canyon State produces a lot of welcomed sunshine each summer. In fact, Valley residents see almost 4,000 hours of sunshine every year — that’s a lot of potentially harmful UV rays on your skin and eyes! While seeking refuge in the shade is a smart option for skin, how can you protect your vision?
Your eye health is important, and it’s crucial to know how sun damage to eyes can occur and what you can do to prevent it. Read on to learn all about the sun’s effects on your eyesight and how you can stay stylishly cool and worry-free this summer.
What Does the Sun Do to Your Eyes?
Most of us love soaking up the sun while sitting poolside. It’s known to raise endorphin levels and produce a happier state of mind; not to mention, vitamin D is essential for our bodies. But what happens when your eyes are exposed to too much sun? Let’s take a look:
Ultraviolet (UV) & HEV radiation
Eye damage from the sun is directly caused by harmful solar radiation. There are four categories of high-energy UV rays:
- UVA rays have lower energy than UVB and UVC rays, but have the highest probability of breaking through the ozone layer and directly affecting your eyes. Diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration are possible (see more on those below).
- UVB rays are partially filtered by the ozone layer, but can still reach the earth’s surface. UVB radiation is known for stimulating melanin, resulting in a suntan or sunburn. This can cause issues like lumps on eyelids.
- UVC rays harbor the highest energy and potential harm, but the ozone layer blocks pretty much everything. Let’s hope it stays that way.
- HEV rays, or blue light, have longer wavelengths and lower energy than UV rays. They can cause retinal damage or even macular degeneration for those with low vitamin C and blood plasma levels.
It’s important to note that risks of eye damage from any of these rays can alter on the daily depending on several factors —geographic location, time of day, altitude and even medications you take (check with your doctor).
Often overlooked as an area requiring protection, your eyelid’s skin is very thin and contains fragile tissues heavily affected by UV light. In fact, eyelid cancers account for 5 to 10 percent of all skin cancers. Watch for early warnings signs like a lump or bump, persistent red eye or eyelid inflammation, irregular lesions and sudden loss of eyelashes.
UV rays have been directly linked to cataracts, which is the progressive clouding and yellowing of the eye’s focusing mechanism. Surgery to remove cataracts is an option, but avoiding extended sun exposure is a better option.
The leading cause of vision loss (more than cataracts and glaucoma combined), macular degeneration is considered an incurable disease. Although the cause for macular degeneration is undetermined, a combination of genetic and environmental factors is thought to play a role.
- Conjunctival cancers: Steadily on the rise, conjunctival melanomas are more common in patients with atypical moles. Affected patients should have yearly ophthalmologic evaluations.
- Keratitis: Excessive UV exposure from the sun and tanning bed can literally burn your corneas. If you notice severe eye redness or other symptoms of keratitis, see your doctor immediately.
How to Prevent Eye Damage from the Sun
Let’s focus on what you should do to protect your eyes from potential harm. Keep this list top of mind so you’re always prepared for any outdoor adventure.
- Sunglasses: Up your “cool-factor” while bringing down the chances of harming your eyes. Sunglasses are hands down the best way to protect your eyes from sun damage, but it’s imperative they block 100 percent of UV rays (ask your optometrist if you’re unsure).
- Wraparound shades: Sunglasses with large lenses are best at protecting the delicate skin around your eyes. Even if your contact lenses block UV rays, sunglasses are still necessary to protect all parts of your eyes.
- Hat: Most any hat style will help keep out some of the sun, but those with wide brims (at least 3 inches) all around are preferred. It’s always a good idea to have a hat in your back seat just in case.
- Sunscreen: Seek out a quality SPF15+ sunscreen or moisturizer that’s made for the sensitive skin around your eyes. And don’t be afraid to use on the eyelids, so long as you choose the right product and apply carefully.
It’s especially important to note that kids are more susceptible to retinal damage from UV rays. And since children spend a ton of time outdoors, it’s smart you have all the above on hand.