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.”
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.
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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.
4. Check Your Watch and Whereabouts: It’s especially important to wear sunglasses and a hat between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. when UV rays are at their peak or whenever you spend time outdoors in high altitudes or close to the equator where UV sunlight is more intense. Also, don’t forget eye cover when you’re out in the snow or on the water; the sun’s reflection off of these surfaces can magnify the damaging effects.
5. Never Gaze Directly at the Sun: Staring at direct sunlight, even during a solar eclipse, exposes the eye to solar radiation. This can lead to loss of vision which may or may not be permanent.
6. Reverse Your Damage: Once chronic harm has been done, it’s usually irreversible. The Age-Related Eye Disease (AREDS) study, a major clinical trial sponsored by the National Eye Institute, found that taking a potent antioxidant vitamin daily offers some protection for people at high risk of developing age-related macular degeneration but it’s not known whether it can prevent or reverse sun-related damage. Ask your ophthalmologist whether you’re a good candidate for ARED vitamin therapy.