With summer just around the corner and the dark days of winter a thing of the past, it’s finally time to soak up the sun.
While getting a solid dose of vitamin D and alleviating seasonal affective disorder are no doubt worthy justifications for getting some rays, it’s important not to disregard protection – not just of your skin, but of your eyes as well. Eye damage might not be as immediately visible – and painful – as that bright red sunburn you got on your last beach holiday, but it can be just as dangerous to your overall health.
The bottom line with eye protection is to wear sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and to do so with vigilance. Even if it’s not a perfectly clear day, or you’re not staring directly into the sun, your eyes still need protection, so don’t reserve your shades strictly for when you’re driving into the setting sun. Just like how your skin can still get burnt on a seemingly cloudy day, the outer window of the eye known as the cornea of the lens within the eye can be damaged without you looking directly into the sun. That being said, looking directly into the sun – even with sunglasses – is dangerous, so steer clear, no matter how tempted you may be.
Interestingly enough, just as those with lighter skin are more susceptible to burns and sun damage to those with darker skin tones, individuals with blue or green eyes are more susceptible to damage than their brown-eyed counterparts.
Beyond the danger to your eyes, excessive squinting in bright or sunny conditions will give you premature lines and wrinkles around your eyes. It’s just not worth it, especially given the wide range of fashionable and functional frames on the market today.
So what damage, exactly, can the sun to do your eyes?
Sun damage can contribute to cataracts, pterygium, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and skin cancer on your eyelids, as well as the rest of the skin on your face. This damage typically builds up over time, and symptoms may not present until later in life, but that does not mean that children and young adults are immune to such sun damage. If very young children are liable to pull off their glasses, parents can opt for sun hats as an alternative, but other than that, there is no reason for individuals of all ages not to wear shades.
Cataracts and AMD are both discussed in our Ageing Eyes article, and refer to clouding on the lens of the eye, and vision loss in the centre of the eye, respectively. Both are fairly common among older populations, and sun damage from childhood through adulthood significantly increases both their likelihoods. Once it’s been done, this damage is irreversible, though it may not cause any problems until many years have passed.
Pterygium refers to a benign growth on the conjunctiva, and results in red, inflamed, dry and itchy eyes. It may also affect vision as the growth invades the cornea, induce astigmatism, or scar the cornea.