When you step outside or look out a window, you probably aren’t thinking about how the sun is impacting your vision. Even when it’s hiding behind clouds, the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays, can damage our eyes. The sun’s UV rays are the main cause of skin cancer, but they can also cause sunburns, premature aging, and eye damage.
Protecting your skin and eyes from damaging UV rays is important whether you spend a lot of time outside or not. Keep reading to learn the best ways to protect your vision for years to come.
Eye damage from the sun
During the warm spring and summer months, many people spend hours outside. Unfortunately, spending time in the sun without proper eye protection can lead to potential eye problems including:
- Corneal sunburn: Did you know you can get a sunburn on your eye? Sunlight can be even more damaging when it’s reflected off sand, snow, water, or ice. Corneal sunburns, also known as photokeratitis, can cause pain, blurred vision, swelling, headache, tearing, and more. A vision doctor most often diagnoses a corneal sunburn by asking about your recent activities.
- Cataracts: Our eyes have a natural lens. When that lens becomes cloudy, it’s known as a cataract. This can cause double vision, light sensitivity, and bright colors to appear faded. Aging and exposure to UV light without eye protection can cause cataracts to develop.
- Cancer: The exact cause of most eye cancers is still being researched, but we do know of links between eye cancer and other health conditions and lifestyle choices. Researchers theorize that too much exposure to sunlight is a risk factor for uveal or conjunctival melanoma of the eye. Additionally, race/ethnicity, eye color, age, gender, genetics, and family history can all be risk factors for eye cancer. Learn more about eye cancer at cancer.org.
- Macular degeneration: The macula is a part of the retina at the back of the eye that helps you see very specific details of things you look at. Macular degeneration occurs when the macula is damaged. This can lead to blurry, deteriorated vision. High sun exposure increases your risk for macular degeneration, which can develop rapidly or over time as you age.
- Growths on the eye (pterygium): Ultraviolet radiation, sometimes in combination with the wind, can cause pterygium to develop. Also known as surfer’s eye, a pterygium is a benign, raised bump on the eyeball that can cause some discomfort and blurred vision. They are mostly seen in 30- to 50-year-olds and are rarely seen in children. Though benign, they can cause a burning feeling or the sensation that something is trapped in the eye.
How to protect your vision from sun damage
The best way to protect your eyes and vision from sun damage is to take preventive measures, especially when outside. Here are some simple ways to protect your eyes:
- Wear wide-brimmed hats.
- Wear sunglasses with UV-blocking lenses.
- Avoid being outside when the sun is the strongest.
- Never look directly at the sun.
- Encourage children to wear hats and sunglasses while outside.
- Apply sunscreen on the skin around your eyes.
If you have a concern about your vision, click here to find a vision doctor near you.
Looking for more on protecting your vision? Check out this blog.
*Updated May 2023