The Hows and Whys of Sun Safety for Your Eyes

On a bright sunny day, too much visible light entering into our eyes leads to squinting, fatigue and sometimes headache. We may have trouble keeping our eyes open and glare may block our view. If you are out in the sunlight enough to get sunburn or if you are squinting, protect your eyes.

About UV rays

Sunlight has ultraviolet (UV) rays that, although not visible to us, can damage our eyes. Just like UV light causes sunburn to our skin, UV light can cause a burn to the delicate tissues on the front surface of the eye. We can experience a dry, irritating, sometimes painful eye condition that can take days to recover from.

Tissues inside the eye are sensitive to repeated exposures of UV light, which can lead to an increased risk for cataracts (cloudiness of the eye’s internal lens) and macular degeneration (a disease of the light-sensing tissue lining the inside wall of the eye).

So who’s at risk?

All of us are at risk, especially those exposed to greater amounts of time in the sunlight. Occupations such as farming, construction (especially roofing) and commercial fishing have significant exposure to sunlight, as well as activities including boating, hiking, fishing and being out on the beach. Children also face significant risk.

Protecting your eyes

We can protect our eye health and vision by reducing the time spent in the sunlight and by blocking the sunlight from reaching our eyes.

  • Consider scheduling activities when the sun is less intense, such as in the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Wear a hat or visor. Some contact lens materials are designed to provide protection from UV light.
  • Lenses for prescription glasses can be made to block UV light and remain clear or even darken in the sunlight.

Cool shades

Wearing sunglasses is one of the most common ways to protect our eyes from sunlight.

  • Only use sunglasses labeled as at least 99% UV blocking.
  • Polarized lenses significantly reduce reflected light off water, road surfaces and the sky.
  • The color of the lens tint is a matter of choice. Some colors create better contrast (amber); some feel soothing (rosy brown); grey will not alter color perception. The tint should be dark enough to keep you from squinting when using the sunglasses in typical circumstances.

Visit your eye doctor at least every two years (many vision plans now cover every year) to review specific recommendations for your vision and eye health.

Author John Otto, O.D., is director of Christiana Care’s Eye Care Department.

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