Prevent Blindness America (PBA) has declared May Ultraviolet Awareness Month.
Exposure to UV rays can have a significant negative impact on eye health, and it’s critical to understand how serious those effects can be. Everyone—at every age—is at risk for eye damage from UV radiation, and the more time you spend in the sun, the higher your risk! Common symptoms from prolonged UV exposure include eye irritation, trouble seeing and red or swollen eyes, and only a minority of Americans wear sunglasses as often as they should (“2016 UV Protection Member Report”).
Read on for a few simple tips on how to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays.
1) Understand the risks
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that the effects of UV exposure are both immediate and long-term. Perhaps the most obvious short-term effect is sunburn. The skin around the eye is ten times thinner than the skin on the remainder of the face (“Caring for the Skin Around the Eyes”), but it’s not just skin that can be burned—your corneas can be sunburned, too.
More serious are the long-term effects of sun exposure. Cumulative UV damage can accelerate macular degeneration, lead to cataract formation and growths, and even lead to the development of cancers of the eye (“UV Rays Can Harm Eyes”).
2) Choose the right sunglasses
Not all sunglasses are created equal. Cheap, tinted sunglasses may shade your eyes without offering any UV protection; this may cause your pupils to dilate, which can actually increase retinal exposure to unfiltered UV (“2016 UV Protection Member Report”).
Select sunglasses that block 99-100% of UV-A and UV-B rays, regardless of your age. A survey by Transitions® found that millennials are the least likely group to wear sunglasses, choosing to forego shades even when it’s obvious they should wear them (“Adaptive Sunglasses Selection Survey”). If in doubt, consult with your eye doctor to make sure you’re utilizing proper UV eye protection.
3) Be Aware of Rx Medications
Some prescription medications cause increased sensitivity to light, UV, and high-energy visible (HEV) radiation. These include, but are not limited to, tetracycline (an antibiotic commonly used to treat acne and rosacea), sulfa drugs, birth control pills, diuretics, and tranquilizers. Be sure to ask your doctor about these effects (“Who’s at Risk”).
Editor’s Note: Read our specific eye health tips for women.
4) Wear a hat
Don’t underestimate the amount of protection a wide-brimmed hat can provide! It’s been estimated that hats block up to half of UV rays, including those that enter the eye from above or around sunglasses (“How to Protect Your Eyes”).
5) Other Risks
While it may be obvious that people who work or routinely spend long hours in the sun are at a higher risk of developing UV-related eye problems, those who have had cataract surgery or have certain retina disorders should take extra precautions to shield their eyes from the sun (“Who’s at Risk for Eye Damage from the Sun”).
In addition, kids generally receive three times the annual sun exposure of adults, so protecting their vision is paramount (“2016 UV Protection Member Report”).
For more information on how to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays, visit Prevent Blindness.
- “2016 UV Protection Member Report.” The Vision Council. 2016.
- “Caring for the Skin Around the Eyes.” Mediniche. 2015.
- “UV Rays Can Harm Eyes.” Prevent Blindness. 2016.
- “Adaptive Sunglasses Selection Survey Finds More than One Third of Consumers go without Sunglasses when needed to Avoid Compensating for Changing Light Conditions.” Transitions. 13 April 2016.
- “Who’s at Risk for Eye Damage from the Sun.” Prevent Blindness. 2016.
- “How to Protect Your Eyes from UV Rays.” Prevent Blindness. 2016.