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Protecting Your Eyes from Sun Damage

Protecting Your Eyes from Sun Damage

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The long, warm days of summer are quickly approaching, and as people begin to spend more and more time in the beautiful outdoors, protection from the sun becomes increasingly important.

Just as your skin needs sun block for protection against the sun’s harsh ultraviolet (UV) rays, your eyes need protection, too. In fact, UV radiation is one of the greatest threats to the eyes, with effects that are three times greater in the summer than in the winter.

Just stepping outside on a sunny day puts you at risk for eye damage. Even when it’s cloudy, there’s still a risk for overexposure to UV rays. Multiply that by a few fun-filled hours outdoors without eye protection, and you are on the fast track for developing serious eye diseases.

Because UV rays are invisible, most of the time people don’t even realize they are harming their eyes. But out of sight should not mean out of mind. If absorbed by the eyes, these invisible rays can do plenty of damage and can even lead to eye diseases or vision loss.

Children are particularly vulnerable to these effects. Since the lenses in their eyes do not block as much UV radiation as adult eyes do, their risk of eye damage increases significantly. Other people at increased risk for serious eye damage include those with retinal disorders, those who have had cataract surgery, and those who are taking certain medications that make their eyes more sensitive to sunlight.

Although people with these conditions are at greater risk for eye damage, everyone faces some risk. Studies show that stepping outside on a sunny day without eye protection, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are the harshest, can lead to serious damage regardless of the health of a person’s eyes.

Overexposure to UV rays can cause photokeratitis, a sunburn on the eye that is extremely painful and can permanently damage the cornea. UV rays can also cause pterygium, or tissue growths on the whites of the eyes that can block vision, as well as skin cancer around the eye.

There are other eye conditions that can develop after a lifetime accumulation of UV ray damage, including cataracts. Harmful UV rays are also linked to age-related macular degeneration, a disease in which the retina begins to break down and which can ultimately lead to blindness.

The more your eyes are exposed to bright sunlight, the more likely they are to suffer irreversible damage. Fortunately, it’s never too early or too late to start protecting your eyes from the sun.

One of the best ways to protect your eyes is to wear sunglasses. For the best protection, look for sunglasses that filter out at least 98 percent of UV rays. The best sunglasses are those bought from an optician because you can be sure they block out the appropriate amounts of radiation. Lenses should also be brown, gray, or green, and bigger lenses offer more protection.

There are also contact lenses that filter out much of the UV radiation that would be absorbed by the eyes. But contact lens wearers should still err on the safe side and wear sunglasses, since filtered contacts don’t block out all UV rays.

There are other measures you can take to keep your eyes protected. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can keep the sun from peeking in over your sunglasses. When it’s time to go swimming, goggles not only protect your eyes from any chlorine or bacteria present in the water, but they also protect your eyes from the sun.

And remember, just because UV rays are most intense in the summer doesn’t mean you should stop protecting your eyes once the autumn leaves start to fall. UV rays are present everyday, whether cloudy or sunny, no matter what season. Protecting your eyes every time you go outdoors all year long will help you preserve your vision in the long run.

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