Protecting Your Eyes In The Sun

Every year, millions of people put their sight at risk by venturing into the sun without adequate protection.

Containing high levels of UV radiation, direct sunlight can cause substantial and in some cases permanent damage to eyesight. Conditions such as eyelid cancer, Macular degeneration, and Keratitis (when the cornea is literally sunburnt) can all develop as a result of prolonged, unprotected exposure to sunlight.

The eyes were designed with their own natural defense against sunlight – eyelids. However, like the rest of the skin surrounding the eyes, eyelids are incredibly thin, meaning extra measures need to be taken to prevent harmful levels of UV entering the eye. Direct sunlight, along with rays reflected from water and snow, can lead to a number of eye health issues – but luckily many of these can be easily prevented.

Watch Mr Romesh Angunawela, Consultant Eye Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital, give expert advice on how to protect your eyes from the sun:


Video Transcript

"The main thing really has to do with sunshine and sunshine contains UV radiation, and UV radiation damages your eyes and the skin around your eyes. It can cause Cataract and damage to your lens, and it can cause skin cancers and cancers on the surface of the eye for instance, or lumps or bumps to grow on it so you really want to protect your eyes from UV radiation, and the way to do that is to wear appropriate sunglasses.

The type of sunglasses really that are very important are CE marked that block UV light, UVA and B 100%, and you need to look for that label when you’re buying your sunglasses. It should say something like UV400. Just judging how effective your sunglasses are by how dark they doesn’t really give you an indication to how well they’re going to block UVA and UVB radiation. Have a look at those labels, and work out what are actually the proper lenses that are going to block UV light.

The other thing really to mention is that if you have children, it’s really important to protect their eyes from the sun. Kids’ eyes tend to be more affected by UV light and UV radiation. It’s important to have sunglasses for them, and there are cool kid sunglasses now, and again look at the label and make sure the lens in the sunglasses actually filters out UVA and B radiation to 100%, that’s what you’re really looking for. A CE marked lens and sunglasses to protect your children’s eyes, and make them wear them and wear a wide brimmed hat as well if you can to avoid overexposure to sun, particularly during the midday.

The other thing is wraparound sunglasses are more useful because they cut out light coming from the side, or wider sunglasses are better because it covers the eyelids and the skin around the eyes as well. Thinking of those things because skin around the eyes are really very delicate, and of course they wrinkle and you can get things like skin cancers if you don’t protect them.

The final thing of course is that summertime is all about water sports and jumping in the pool and in the sea. People need to really watch out, the contact lens wearers because wearing contact lenses and swimming is really a bad combination. You can pretty bad infections and corneal ulcers and things like that. If you are going to go swimming protect your eyes with goggles. If you need prescription goggles, it’s worth really considering getting those because it stops you having that temptation to jump into a pool with your contact lenses on, and then wearing them for the rest of the day.

Goggles and being careful with the swimming with contact lenses is important. Summertime is a great time it’s good to have a lot of fun, but it’s important to keep it in mind that you need to protect your eyes. Simple things like sunglasses and goggles while swimming can really help make a big difference."

Mr Romesh Angunawela, Consultant Eye Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital


The Impact Of UV On Your Eyesight

The sun’s rays contain three ranges of ultraviolet rays, UVA (responsible for long-term damage such as skin spots) and UVB (responsible for short-term damage. The “B” stands for burning, as these rays cause sunburn. UVC, the strongest and deadliest of ultraviolet rays, luckily do not pass the o-zone layer.

Where eye health is concerned, UVB rays are responsible for much of the damage that sun can cause. These harmful burning rays can cause Photokeratitis, or corneal sunburn. Although not common, this condition can be incredibly painful and can even lead to short-term blindness. It most commonly occurs when an individual spends long hours in the sun (normally partaking in sports such as skiing or boating where UV rays are intensified) without any eye protection. UV rays can also cause a Pterygium to develop. This is a cloudy white growth that develops on the whites of your eye, and could potentially spread to the cornea and compromise your vision. Further serious eye health problems such as eye cancer and cataracts can also arise.

Long-term unprotected exposure to UV radiation can lead to serious and permanent damage to your vision, and you may also feel your eyes become irritated, itchy and sore. Luckily, there are some things you can do to protect your eyes with relative ease to avoid these health complications whilst still enjoying the sunshine.

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What You Can Do

The most important step to take when protecting your eyes against harmful UV radiation is to wear sunglasses.

Beyond being a fashion accessory, sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays. There are sunglasses available for children, so eye health can start from a young age. Children’s eyes are mores susceptible to sun damage, so it is especially important to invest in quality sunglasses for youngsters. Sunglasses are also available with prescription lenses if required, so if you enjoy reading outdoors or need glasses for driving, you can ensure you still do all your day-to-day tasks with the right preventative measures in place.

Optometrists recommend looking for CE marked sunglasses, as these block 100% of UVA and UVB rays. This marking proves they confirm to the European Community Standard of quality, and if you are buying sunglasses in the UK, the British Standard BSEN1836 marking means the glasses have been certified to provide protection against the damage of UV rays. Sunglasses that are labeled with “UV 400” will block all UV rays with wavelengths of up to 400 nanometers, or essentially 100% of UV rays.

Optometrists recommend paying close attention to the UV markings when selecting your sunglasses, not just the style or colour. It is a common misconception that the darker the glasses, the strong the protection, but this is not necessarily always the case. Indeed, polarized lenses with a lighter colour may provide more protection that black lenses on a fashionable pair. If you need help when selecting your sunglasses, speaking to an expert in store or your optometrist can help you find something that will provide the best protection possible.

Final Facts About Sun Protection

Early prevention is the best protection against cancers, cataracts, muscle degeneration and other harmful effects of UV exposure.

This means getting into the habit of wearing sunglasses from a young age, and always having a pair with you to slip on as weather conditions change. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10am and 3pm, so it’s wise to take extra precautions if you are out during this time. For example, you may wish to stay in the shade, or wear a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap to provide some added shelter if you’re in direct sunlight. Wraparound sunglasses are the most useful and effective, as they protect sunshine coming from the sides as well as straight on.

Reflective surfaces such as water can intensify and reflect UV light. For example, if you’ll be partaking in watersports such as swimming, fishing or boating, wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses is particularly important. These lenses contain a special filter that neutralizes glare and improves visibility, and are available in prescription lenses if required. Of course, in sunny weather, a dip in the pool is always welcome. However, contact lens wearers can find themselves struggling with damage caused by chemicals in the pool reacting with their lenses. Optometrists recommend investing in prescription goggles for swimmers who wear contact lenses to prevent any damage.

While we commonly associated sun exposure with warm sunny weather in the summer months, it’s important to remember that the sun can cause eye damage in cold climates and in winter months, too. Snow intensifies UV light, so if partaking in winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding, wearing goggles that contain polarized lenses and wraparound protection are a must.

Ultimately, protecting your eyes in the sun begins with understanding the damage that can be caused by harmful UV rays. While it’s not possible to avoid the sun altogether, you can enjoy your time in it responsibly by choosing the right protective eyewear for both the winter and summer months.

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