UK HealthCare

Protect Your Eyes: Nine Tips for Everyday Sun Safety

Dr. Claire Fraser

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 11, 2017) — Now that the solar eclipse is over, it’s a good idea to review the basics of everyday sun protection for your eyes. Long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight can lead to damage on the inside and the outside of your eyes. 

There is an increased risk of developing cancers of the eyelids and ocular surface with increased exposure to the sun. A non-cancerous growth called a pterygium is commonly associated with long-term sun exposure and can result in chronic eye irritation.  Inside the eye, sun exposure is associated with progression of certain types of cataract.  These diseases take many years to develop, but every time we are out in the sun without eye protection, we may be adding damage that increases our risk. Snow-blindness, also called photokeratitis, is a type of rapid painful damage to the front surface of the eye, that can occur when UV rays are reflected from ice and snow, particularly when it is very cold and dry.

For these reasons, ophthalmologists recommend that you wear proper sunglasses and a brimmed hat when you’re in the sun for long periods of time.  Here are nine tips for eye protection:

  1. Choose the right sunglasses. Look for sunglasses offer at least 99 percent UV absorption. Glasses that offer 100 percent UV absorption are even better. This can also be indicated by a label stating “UV absorption up to 400 nm.
  1. A darker lens can make your eyes feel more comfortable in bright light, but does not mean improved UV protection. A colored lens such as amber, green, or gray, can still offer 100 percent UV absorption and may be helpful to increase contrast. Likewise, polarized glasses decrease glare but do not add additional UV protection. Mirror-coated lenses may decrease the amount of light entering your eyes but do not offer additional UV protection. Always make sure the label states your sunglasses of choice have maximum UV protection.
  1. Large-framed lenses and wraparound styles allow fewer UV rays to reach the eye from around the glasses and therefore offer additional protection to the eyes and eyelids.
  1. Price should not be prohibitive. There are excellent cost-conscious options for sunglasses that offer 100 percent UV protection.
  1. All sunglasses must meet impact standards set by the Federal Food and Drug Administration for safety.  Plastic lenses are less likely to shatter when hit by an object.  For sports, polycarbonate plastic sunglasses are recommended because they offer additional shatter-protection.
  1. Sun damage to the eyes can occur during all seasons.  Don’t forget to protect your eyes during the winter months, especially when outside in the snow.
  1. Tanning beds can cause severe eye damage. Tanning beds can produce UV radiation levels up to 100 times higher than that from the sun.
  1. Never look directly at the sun, even with sunglasses. Looking directly at the sun at any time can lead to permanent damage to the center of your vision.
  1. Damage from UV radiation is cumulative. Don’t forget to protect your children’s eyes with hats and sunglasses.  And remember to protect your skin with sunscreen.

Dr. Claire Fraser is assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at UK.

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