Ophthalmologists know their patients enjoy being outdoors, but they also recognize the need for proper eye protection. Too much exposure to UV light increases the risk for certain eye conditions such as cataracts, abnormal growths and cancer. Some of this damage takes years to develop, but each time you’re outside without protection, you’re raising the risk.
To emphasize the importance of wearing proper eye protection year round, it helps to understand how the sun damages the eyes.
UV Light and Eye Damage
Ultraviolet light is a type of radiation that is not visible to the human eye. It is present in sunlight. UV light can cause many health concerns such as sunburn, cell damage and DNA damage. Repeated exposure can lead to gene mutations and cancer, as is the case with melanomas.
All parts of the eye are sensitive: the cornea, lens, retina and surrounding tissue. Parts of the eye are responsible for filtering out UV light, but they become less efficient over time. Less filtering means more UV light entering the eye and raising the risk for damage.
Some types of damage are short-term and repairable, such as a sunburn on the cornea. Sadly, others are not. Let’s review the types of eye conditions that can occur from too much UV light.
-Photokeratitis. Occurs when the snow reflects off surfaces such as snow or ice.
-Corneal sunburn. This happens when the eyes are exposed to UVB rays and can cause a temporary loss of vision.
-Corneal damage. The cornea filters out UV light but can become damaged over time.
-Cataracts. One of the leading causes of cataracts is UV radiation. Age is another factor.
-Eyelid cancer. Most sun exposure hits the lower eyelid, which can increase the risk for cancer.
-Pinguecula. This condition is generally caused by ultraviolet radiation and involves a yellowish thickening of the conjunctiva.
-Pterygium. This triangle-shaped growth on the white of the eye is usually caused by UV light.
-Discoloration. Just as the sun causes fading on materials, it can change the color of the eye. People living in high UV areas are more likely to show a blue or yellow deficiency.
-Solar Retinopathy. This is damage to the eye’s retina and macula caused by too much exposure to solar radiation and bright lights such as lasers.
To prevent the sun from causing damage to the eyes, wear sunglasses when you’re outdoors or driving. Do this year round, not just in the summer. If you’ll be spending extra time outdoors, wear a wide-brimmed hat and take breaks in the shade. Not all eye conditions are reversible, so it’s important to take care of your eyes the first time around!