The Importance of Protecting Your Eyes from the Sun

Here at KLM Eye MDs in Brooklyn, New York, we’re dedicated to helping people maintain eye health and good vision for life.

You already know that spending too much time in the sun can damage unprotected skin and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. That’s why you use sunscreen, cover your skin, and try to avoid the strong midday sunlight.

But did you know that exposing your unprotected eyes to too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation can also damage the sensitive cells in your retinas, leaving them vulnerable to developing serious conditions that can lead to long-term vision loss?

Protecting your eyes from dangerous UV light is essential for maintaining optimal eye health and preserving your vision. While short-term damage may go unnoticed, long-term damage can cause irreversible harm to the structures of your eyes and surrounding tissues.  

Although long-term sun damage can be disastrous for your eyes, it’s easy to prevent. Here’s what you should know.

UV light and eye health

Heading out on a sunny day without eye protection may not feel particularly hazardous or even risky, but the cumulative effects of long-term sun damage can be both insidious and powerful.  

Ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), which are intense, invisible rays that have shorter wavelengths than visible light, can contribute to the development of serious eye problems, including:

Cataracts

Cataracts, or the clouding over of the lens in your eye, can blur your vision and make colors appear less vibrant. Although cataracts are largely considered an age-related eye problem, about 20% of all cases are a direct result of extended exposure to UV light.

Macular degeneration

As the leading cause of blindness in the United States, macular degeneration impairs the macula lutea, a small spot near the center of your retina required for sharp central vision.

Because this part of the retina contains millions of light-sensing cells, eye experts believe that routine exposure to harmful UV radiation contributes to the development and progression of this devastating eye disease.   

Ultraviolet keratitis

Also known as a corneal sunburn, this temporary but painful condition occurs when intense exposure to UV light scorches your corneas, the clear refracting surfaces that allow light and images to pass into your retinas.

On top of making you more sensitive to light for up to 48 hours, ultraviolet keratitis can cause blurred vision and leave you with gritty, painfully dry eyes.

Pterygium

Prolonged, intense exposure to UV radiation is the primary cause of pterygium, a benign, abnormal tissue growth that develops on the eyeball itself. It’s sometimes called “surfer’s eye” because surfers spend a lot of time on the water, which reflects the sun’s rays and increases their exposure.

Besides causing general eye discomfort and blurred vision, pterygium can lead to chronic eye inflammation and permanent disfigurement.

Eye cancer

Routine exposure to UV rays also increases your chances of developing cancer, either within the structures of your eye or the delicate tissues that surround and support them.

Although still relatively rare, intraocular melanoma is the most common form of eye cancer in adults. Like melanomas that affect the skin, this potentially deadly disease is usually a direct result of overexposure to UV radiation.

Conjunctival cancers, which affect the lining behind your eyelid, are also caused by routine exposure to harmful UV light. Once considered very rare, this type of eye cancer is becoming increasingly common, especially among older people.

Eye protection 101

The irreversible eye damage caused by long-term exposure to UV rays can go unnoticed for years. In fact, most people who’ve sustained this type of silent, long-term damage only know about it once they’ve developed an associated problem that impacts their vision.

Fortunately, wearing the right pair of sunglasses, or the kind that blocks out at least 99% of all UV light — including both UVA and UVB rays — is a simple and effective way to protect your ocular health and preserve your sight.

Prescription sunglasses obtained through an ophthalmologist or optometrist always provide this level of protection, while store-bought sunglasses that are UV-rated are generally labeled with a tag or sticker so you’ll know for sure.

If you already wear sunglasses but aren’t certain whether your they provide the recommended level of protection, you should find a new pair of shades you can be absolutely sure of. When buying new sunglasses, look for oversized lenses or wraparound-style frames, both of which offer more complete coverage for your eye area.

Here at KLM Eye MDs in Brooklyn, New York, we’re dedicated to helping people maintain eye health and good vision for life.

Whether you need a pair of quality sunglasses or it’s been awhile since your last eye exam, we’re ready to help. Call our Midwood office in Brooklyn or use the easy online tool to schedule a visit with one of our experienced ophthalmologists.

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