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Eye Health: Six Steps to Avoiding Sun Damage

Sunburning your eyes is possible. Learn how to protect your peepers from cataracts and macular degeneration.

November 1st, 2011

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Eye Health: Six Steps to Avoiding Sun Damage

You certainly know that spending too much time in the sun can burn your skin—but your eyes? Experts warn that overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays and blue light rays, the short wavelengths of the light spectrum, can seriously scorch your peepers and lead to loss of vision.

This isn't just a summer concern. The sun can affect your eyes year-round, and cold weather outdoor activities like skiing and snowboarding is a culprit.

“Short term exposure can literally sunburn your eyeballs, inflaming the corneas and injuring the conjunctiva, the tissue that covers the white part of the eye,” notes Carl May, M.D. a Hanover, PA based ophthalmologist. “Long-term, repeated exposure without protection can cause cancer of the eyelids, cataracts or macular degeneration.”

QUIZ: Are You Taking Care of Your Skin?

A cataract is a cloudy area that develops on the normally clear part of the eye. When it grows large enough it can hinder vision. Macular degeneration results in damage to the macula, part of your eye’s lens that’s responsible for clear vision. “Both of these conditions, as well as bumps on the eyelid that may be an indication of skin cancer, are serious and require medical treatment,” May cautions.

Bottom line: Any time you slather on the sunscreen, you should take steps to protect your eyes as well. Follow these six tips to safeguard your eyes from the sun.

MORE: Get Sunscreen Savvy

1. Get Good Sunglasses: Invest in sunglasses that are labeled 100-percent effective for blocking UVA and UVB rays. Look for wraparound styles that shield your eyes from sunlight that can sneak in from the sides. And don’t be fooled by color or cost. The ability to block UV light has little to do with price tag or how dark the lenses are. Even inexpensive models can offer sufficient protection.

2. Don't Count on Contacts: Contact lenses alone aren’t enough to protect your eyes from the sun. Even if your lenses have UV protection, remember to wear your sunglasses, too.

3. Wear a Hat: A hat can shade up to half of UV rays and limit the UV rays that reach eyes from above or around glasses. Look for a dark colored, wide brimmed hat that offers maximum coverage.

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