Safeguarding your vision from the sun is an important part of caring for your eyes. Summer months with warmer weather makes it that much more important that you take precautions for eye protection. But protecting your eyes is not something that comes with stipulations. No matter what your age is. no matter the time of year, no matter the weather, protecting your eyes before you go outside is an important part of caring your eye health.
How the Sun Harms Your Eyes and the Skin Around Them
- Cataracts: The most common cause of treatable blindness, cataracts cloud and yellow the lens of your eye, causing progressive vision loss.
- Macular degeneration: A major cause of vision loss for people over age 60, macular degeneration is caused by cumulative UV damage to the central portion of the retina, the back layer inside each eye that records what we see and sends it to your brain.
- Keratitis, or corneal sunburn: UV exposure can cause painful burning of the cornea, the clear surface that admits light and images to the retina. Also known as “snow blindness,” this condition occurs in skiers and hikers because of the sun’s intensity at altitudes and its reflective nature off of water, snow and ice.
- Conjunctival cancers: Once rare, these eye cancers are increasing, especially among older people.
- Eyelid Skin Cancer: BCCs make up the vast majority — about 90 percent — of eyelid skin cancers. Of the balance, an estimated 5 percent or more are SCCs, while melanomas account for 1 to 2 percent. Most eyelid skin cancers occur on the lower lid, because it receives the most sun exposure.
Protecting Your Eyes Against the Sun
- Wear sunglasses year-round whenever you are out in the sun. Sun damage to the eyes can occur any time of year.
- Choose shades that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB light. When purchasing sunglasses, look for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation.
- Wear a hat with at least a three-inch brim and tightly woven fabric (no holes) to protect your face and the top of your head. Hats can block as much as half of all UV rays from your eyes and eyelids.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, to protect yourself when you need to take off your shades. Choose one that is safe for your face and eyes.
- Be aware of clouds: the sun’s rays can pass through haze and clouds, so eye protection is important even when there is cloud cover.
- Take extra care near water, snow and sand: 80 percent or more of the sun’s rays reflect off of these surfaces, so that they hit your eyes and skin a second time.
- Be altitude-aware: UV intensity increases with altitude, so be sure to protect your eyes while skiing, snowboarding and hiking.
- Seek shade: Whenever possible, especially during times when the sun is most intense (typically 10 AM – 4 PM).
Safeguard your eyes by making sun safety a daily routine, year-round. For more prevention tips, see your eye doctor!
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