Ah summer. We wait for it all year, so we can get outdoors and finally soak up those rays. Though most of us remember to shield our skin from too much sun exposure, many of us forget to protect another vulnerable area, our eyes. You’re probably aware that looking directly at the sun can cause blindness, but you may not realize how indirect UV exposure can also damage vision and cause eye problems.
Read on to learn how the sun can damage your eyes and how to protect yourself when you’re out enjoying the summer weather.
Here are five eye problems the sun can cause as outlined on All About Vision:
1. Aging – More Than Crow’s Feet
No one really wants crow’s feet ( eye wrinkles often caused by squinting against the sun’s rays) or the sun spots and visible signs of aging that UV rays cause. Yes, UV exposure is (sadly) responsible for 80% of the visible signs of aging. In addition to the skin around the eyes which is thinner and shows damage quickly, the sun can age the eyes by making it more prone to conditions that used to only be seen in seniors, including the next two on the list.
2. Macular Degeneration, Inspired By the Sun
Loss of vision caused by wear of the macula (the central area of the retina) responsible for clear vision can occur over time and is commonly associated with aging. That wear can be sped up by too much UV exposure. Some studies show that age-related macular degeneration can be exacerbated by sun exposure, the UV rays speeding up the wear to the macula.
3. Cataracts – When The Sun Causes Clouds
UV exposure can cause or accelerate the development of cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye that can negatively impact vision. While this eye condition is most commonly associated with aging it can happen in those who are younger, especially in those who have had a lot of UV exposure. When vision is affected, surgery is required to remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial lens.
4. Corneal Sunburn – Aloe Won’t Help
Just like you can burn your skin from spending too much unprotected time in the sun, you can also burn the cornea, the clear outer covering of the eye which kind of acts like skin. Known as photokeratitis, a corneal sunburn is caused by unfiltered UV ray exposure. It may lead to permanent vision damage, and it causes painful inflammation and can be quite uncomfortable. It may also increase your risk for developing age related macular degeneration, eyelid cancer, and cataracts .Like a sunburn it will resolve on its own. Unlike your skin, you can’t apply aloe for pain relief. If you suspect you have a corneal sunburn make an appointment with your eye doctor. They may recommend applying cold compresses to the outside of your eye or drops to provide relief.
5. Eye Growths, Not Just For Seniors
There are two types of eye growths that can appear on the white of the eye known as pinguecula and pterygium. Young outdoor sports enthusiasts in their teens or twenties are often at higher risk as they spend a great deal of time on water or snow which reflects more UV rays. These growths can cause eye irritation and often require drops. A pterygium is more serious as it can spread to the cornea and negatively impact vision. If this is the case then surgical removal might be necessary. Other growths include skin cancer on the eyelid and eye cancer, which are rare but can happen.
Is it possible to reverse sun damage to the eyes?
Other than a time machine, there really isn’t anything that can reverse damage but there are some things you can do to prevent further sun damage to the eyes.
Here are some preventative measures to take while enjoying the summer sun:
- Sunglasses – Not Just A Fashion Statement
Wear sunglasses when outdoors and avoid looking at the sun even when wearing them. Be sure to look for ultraviolet (UV) lens protection that is UV400 or higher so that you’re not only making a fashion statement; you’re giving your eyes protection. This rating means that 99.9% of harmful UV rays are blocked by the lens.
- Bring Back the Wide Brimmed Hat
Brim with confidence that you’re doing all you can to prevent sun damage by wearing a wide brim hat to shade your eyes and face, especially if you’re planning on spending time outdoors during peak UV hours. Any hat will offer protection but one with a wide brim will ensure your eyes are covered.
- Between 11 and 3 Watch TV
UV rays are the strongest between 11AM and 3PM according to the government of Canada, and it’s recommended to stay indoors if possible. (The EPA cites 10AM-4PM). Use this time to clean the house, binge watch your favourite show, or sit in the shade. Avoiding the sun during peak times, especially if you’re planning on being on or in the water, can limit UV exposure. If you still want to be outside during the peak of the day, because let’s face it summer is short, then you can use the UV index as your guide and just avoid the sun when the UV index is high.
- Protection from Within- Extra Defense
Certain supplements or foods may increase the body’s natural defenses against UV rays. Lycopene found in cooked tomatoes as well as pycnogenol (pine bark extract), grapefruit, and green tea provide antioxidant protection to help protect against harmful free radicals caused by UV rays. Squalene applied topically, is made from olives and mimics the skin’s natural protective barrier so it may help offer sun protection in addition to sunscreen. Astaxanthin, a popular protective supplement for eyes, can help prevent future eye damage when taken regularly. These suggestions are an added bonus to sun protection and should not replace sunscreen or staying out of the sun during peak UV hours.
Celebrate Summer Safely
Summer is here, yay! Just remember though the season doesn’t last long, UV damage lasts a lifetime. Protect your eyes while outdoors, so you can enjoy seeing all that summer has to offer for years to come. .