HOUSTON (July 8, 2019) – Medical studies have shown that long-term exposure to bright sunlight may increase the risk of several eye diseases including cataracts, growths on the eye, macular degeneration and cancer.
In support of UV Safety Month, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) encourages shielding eyes from the sun’s harmful rays with 100 percent UV-blocking sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats.
Over time, the sun’s rays can seriously damage the eyes and surrounding skin, sometimes leading to vision loss and conditions from cataracts and macular degeneration to eye and eyelid cancers. Ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), invisible rays with wavelengths shorter than visible light, are the most dangerous parts of sunlight. At the beach, the rays are reflected off sand and water and can cause the eyes to sunburn in just a few hours, potentially resulting in temporary blindness.
However, simple daily protective strategies will help keep eyes and the sensitive skin around them healthy.
“Eye protection should be worn every day; it is not just for sunny summer days,” said John Anderson, M.D., an ophthalmologist on the medical staff of St. Joseph Medical Center. “It is also important to protect the eyes from the UV exposure in tanning machines, and from the snow’s reflection in winter months because it reflects back about 80 percent of the sun’s rays and can quickly cause painful damage called snow blindness.”
Dr. Anderson also advised not to be fooled on overcast days because UV rays can penetrate clouds and haze.
The AAO and the Skin Cancer Foundation offer several tips to protect eyes from the sun all year.
- Wear UV-blocking sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats outside because sun damage to eyes can occur anytime during the year, not just in the summertime. The sunglasses should have the ability to absorb and block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB light.
- Sunglasses should be a sufficient size to shield the eyes, eyelids and surrounding eye areas. The more skin that is covered, the better.
- Never look directly at the sun. Looking directly at the sun at any time, including during an eclipse, can lead to solar retinopathy, which is damage to the eye's retina from solar radiation.
Children and seniors are also susceptible to eye damage caused by the sun and should follow daily protective strategies to keep eyes, and the sensitive skin around them, healthy. Everyone is at risk for eye damage from UV rays, not only those with fair skin and light-color eyes. Wear sunglasses year-round and schedule an annual routine funduscopic examination with an ophthalmologist to maintain good eye health.