Protecting your eyes from the sun is just as important as protecting your skin. Most people are aware that too much sun on non-sunscreened skin can lead to aging, wrinkles and skin cancer. But what most people forget is the same harmful rays can also damage your eyes and lead to conditions such as eye strain, blindness, cataracts and macular degeneration. Therefore, wearing sunglasses out in the sun is just as important as wearing sunscreen.
So, how and why does the sun damage eyes? The sun’s rays contain ultraviolet radiation rays (UVR). There are two kinds of ultraviolet radiation rays: UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate deep into the body’s tissues, causing aging and wrinkles. UVB rays are more harmful; causing damage to the upper layers of skin, resulting in sunburn and the development of skin cancer. Unfortunately, both rays can be harmful to all parts of your eye.
What Parts of the Eye Can Be Damaged by the Sun?
- The Iris: (the colored part of your eye): Blurred vision
- The Lens: Development of cataracts
- The Retina: Macular degeneration
- The Eyelids: (which is the thinnest area of the skin on the body): Can become easily sunburned and become damaged
- The Cornea: This area can burn easily, which can be very painful and cause temporary blindness. Repeated exposure to the sun can also lead to severe cataracts
Along with physical damage to the eyes, the sun can also cause eye strain. Have you ever developed a headache because you were constantly squinting against the sun? This is because your eyes are overworked by the constant squinting. This can also cause sore and dry eyes and make it difficult to concentrate. To prevent eye strain and most damage to the eye, you should wear sunglasses. Most health advisors recommend wearing sunglasses between 10 AM – 4 PM as this is when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Note: the closer you live to the equator, the stronger the sun rays!
What are the best sunglasses to wear? When buying sunglasses, you should always check the label to make sure they block 99-100% UVA and UVB rays (a tag that simple says ‘absorbs UV’ doesn’t cut it). Wearing sunglasses that don’t protect against UV rays is more damaging to the eye than not wearing any sunglasses at all. In the dark, your pupils (the black dot in your eye) open more to let in more light. If your sunglasses aren’t rated to block UV rays (i.e. cheap, dyed lenses), you can let even more damaging rays into the back of your eye!
Did you know: A higher price tag doesn’t always equal great quality? Make sure to ask the person at the counter you’re buying sunglasses from if they’re UV protected or simply check the label. Sunglasses could cost hundreds of dollars but if they don’t specify UVA and UVB absorption, then there’s no guarantee they will provide sufficient protection. If you want to check the UV protection of your sunglasses, most opticians will be more than happy to check for you, so pop in and ask (i.e. Lenscrafters). You can also buy a layer of UV protection and add it to your sunglasses if they aren’t preforming as well as they should.
If you find yourself thinking, “Hmm, I should probably wear some sunscreen,” then you should be wearing sunglasses. You can further protect your eyes by wearing a baseball cap or wide brimmed hat, as this restricts the amount of light that reaches your eyes in the first place. Though, this only reduces the UV exposure maybe 50%, so it’s still necessary and important to wear sunglasses. A diet containing foods that promote strong eyes and vision is crucial for your overall eye health. Foods such as cold-water fish (salmon, tuna), egg yolks, carrots and dark leafy greens (kale, spinach) all contain the carotenoid lutein and zeaxanthin, which provide what optometrists call ‘natural sunglasses’ – as they help protect against harmful UV rays. Sunglasses are a great fashion accessory, but their most important role is to protect your eyes. Check the label and be smart!
The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.