Summer is finally here, and people are spending more time outdoors. When heading to the beach, pool or park, or even just spending time in your yard during the day, you must wear proper sun protection. Most people are aware of the importance of wearing sunscreen on their skin, but not many know appropriate eye protection is also essential. The sun’s harmful rays can damage different parts of your eyes, including their surface tissues, cornea and lens.
Some people are more at risk of developing eye problems associated with ultraviolet (UV) light exposure.
What Can UV Rays Do to Your Eyes?
As you age, your risk for cataracts increases. A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. It can cause your vision to get hazy, blurry and less saturated. You might experience difficulty going through your daily routine as the eye condition progresses.
When not treated, it can lead to vision loss and eventually blindness. Too much exposure to sunlight without wearing UV-blocking sunglasses can increase the likelihood of developing cataracts. Surgery remains the only treatment for this eye condition.
Surfer’s eye or pterygium is when a pink, fleshy tissue grows on the conjunctiva. You can usually find this growth near the nose, growing toward the pupil’s direction. Its appearance can be concerning, but it’s not cancer. Eventually, it will stop growing, but sometimes it can conceal the pupil, resulting in vision issues.
Excessive exposure to the sun can contribute to the development of pterygium. You can also develop surfer’s eye from the sun reflected off the water or snow’s surface. Burning, itching, redness, gritty feeling and a sensation of having something inside the eye are common symptoms of this eye condition. Moreover, it can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops or ointments. Your eye doctor can prescribe steroid eyedrops for redness, swelling, pain and itching. Surgery is an option if the growth affects your vision or its look is troubling you.
The cornea is the part of the eye that focuses light on the retina. Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can burn the retina, resulting in keratitis. It can also develop due to an infection or parasite. This condition causes corneal inflammation and can permanently damage the eye when not treated immediately.
The retina is responsible for giving you sharp, clear vision. Once the macula in the retina has been compromised, macular degeneration will occur. It is a leading cause of vision loss in individuals at least 50 years of age. This eye condition affects your central vision, making objects appear less sharp. Its symptoms usually only manifest in its later stages. Regularly visiting your optometrist can help with its early detection and treatment.
The natural lens of your eyes filters most of the UV rays before they reach and harm the retina and macula. It’s the same for cataract lens implants. However, evidence suggests that UV rays can damage the retina and macula. UV radiation can cause significant vision loss and other eye conditions like farsightedness.
Eyelid Skin Cancer
UV radiation exposure can increase the risk for skin cancers of the eyelids. It can contribute to basal cell carcinoma, melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and other skin cancers. A growth or lump on the eyelid that doesn’t go away on its own or bleeds is a common symptom of eyelid cancer. Patients may also experience sudden eyelash loss, eyelid inflammation or lesions. Speak to a specialist immediately if you notice any of these signs in your eyes.
Who Are More Prone to Develop UV-Related Eye Issues?
Do you enjoy spending hours under the sun or doing outdoor activities? If so, you must wear appropriate UV protection on your skin and eyes. Did you know that seafoam reflects up to 30% of UV light while dry sand can reflect at least 15%? If you are going on a boat, swimming or simply relaxing at the beach, you must wear UV-blocking sunglasses during the day.
Snowboarders and Skiers
If you love winter activities, such as skiing and snowboarding, be sure to have appropriate eye protection. Ice and fresh snow can reflect up to 90% of UV rays. Intense, indirect UV radiation of at least two hours can result in keratitis or snow blindness. To avoid this eye condition, wear UV-blocking goggles while on the slopes.
Keep in mind that altitude affects UV radiation intensity. The higher you are, the more dangerous UV rays become, regardless of the snow’s presence. Your eyes are exposed to 5% to 7% more UV radiation for every 1,000 feet you go higher in altitude. At higher altitudes, the atmosphere is thinner and filters lower amounts of UV rays. Enjoy the outdoor views and climbing mountains without damaging your eyes by wearing UV-blocking sunglasses.
Children love to play outside, making them prone to UV-related eye problems. If your kid is outdoors a lot, make sure they have proper sun protection. Around 50% of all the UV you’re exposed to by the time you turn 60 happens before you reach 20. People directly exposed to sun rays over their lifetime are at higher risk of developing eye problems. It’s because the long-term consequences of UV exposure are cumulative.
At birth, a child’s crystalline lenses are typically clear, allowing ultraviolet light to penetrate them. These lenses naturally turn a little yellow as you age, helping filter harmful sun rays. In short, children are more vulnerable to the effects of UV radiation on the eyes. Like you, your kids also need UV-blocking sunglasses when heading outside.
Construction and Outdoor Workers
Compared to indoor workers, individuals working in construction get exposed to 10% to 20% more UV rays. The usual sun peak hours are between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., which covers the typical workday of a construction worker. It’s one of the many reasons individuals who work outdoors require proper eye protection from the sun.
Wearing a hat isn’t enough to protect their eyes from UV radiation, especially light reflected from the ground. Certain surfaces are more reflective than others, such as bright white home exteriors. Even when it’s cloudy, people who work outdoors should still wear sunglasses.
People Who Wear Contact Lenses
UV-blocking contact lenses only provide sun protection on the cornea, lens and retina. Since the white part of the eye is left exposed, UV radiation can still damage it. The lids and eyebrows are two areas of the face where people tend not to apply sunscreen due to the danger of getting chemicals in their eyes. These areas are also unprotected from the sun if you only wear contacts.
Around 5% to 10% of skin cancers develop in the eyes, with basal cell carcinoma being the most common. While basal cell carcinoma gradually grows and doesn’t usually metastasize, it can go deeper into the skin and attack the periorbital tissue and bone.
When not removed early, tumors can damage the vital ocular structures. Unfortunately, detecting them is not easy because of their inward growth pattern. They can significantly grow beneath the skin for years before a patient experiences symptoms or sees obvious signs.