Summer is just around the corner!
That means it’s time to enjoy picnics and parades; beaches and ballgames; festivals and fireworks. Most of all summer means sunshine. Like most things we need to take the good with the bad when it comes to the rays of the summer sun.
Most people use sunscreen to protect their skin, but often forget to protect their eyes. Studies show that exposure to bright sunlight may increase the risk of developing cataracts and growths on the eye, including cancer.
Tanning beds carry the same risks, so it is equally as important to protect your eyes from indoor UV light as outdoor. Sunlight reflected off sand and water can cause photo keratitis, the condition responsible for snow blindness, so beach- and pool-goers need to be mindful of this and use protection.
“UV radiation, whether from natural sunlight or indoor artificial rays, can damage the eye’s surface tissues as well as the cornea and lens,” said Kathryn Green, MD. Too much exposure to UV light can increase the risks of several eye diseases, including cataract, growths on the eye, and cancer. “Diseases like cataracts and eye cancers can take several years to develop, but each time we’re out in the sun without eye protection we put ourselves at risk for these serious disorders.”
Ways to Protect Your Eyes
The American Academy of Ophthalmology conducted a national Sun Safety Survey and found that, when asked, only about half of people who wear sunglasses said they checked the UV rating before they bought their sunglasses.
The Academy recommends the following:
- Wear sunglasses labeled “100% UV protection”: Use only glasses that block both UV-A and UV-B rays and that are labeled either UV400 or 100% UV protection.
- Choose wraparound styles so that the sun’s rays can’t enter from the side.
- If you wear UV-blocking contact lenses, you’ll still need sunglasses.
- If you wear glasses, make sure you add UV protection to your lenses.
- Wear a hat along with your sunglasses; broad-brimmed hats are best.
- Remember the children: It’s best to keep children out of direct sunlight during the middle of the day. Make sure they wear sunglasses and hats whenever they are in the sun.
- Remember, clouds don’t block UV light: The sun’s rays can pass through haze and clouds. Sun damage to the eyes can occur any time of year, not just in summer.
- Be extra careful in UV-intense conditions: Sunlight is strongest mid-day to early afternoon, at higher altitudes, and when reflected off water, ice or snow.
It is also important to protect your eyes from the sun all year-long – even in a gray sky state like Wisconsin. Remember:
- Sun damage to eyes can occur anytime during the year, not just in the summertime, so be sure to wear UV-blocking sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats whenever you’re outside.
- Don’t be fooled by clouds: the sun’s rays can pass through haze and thin clouds.
- Never look directly at the sun. Looking directly at the sun at any time, including during an eclipse, can lead to solar retinopathy, which is damage to the eye’s retina from solar radiation.
- Don’t forget the kids and older family members: everyone is at risk, including children and senior citizens. Protect their eyes with hats and sunglasses.
UV Light: Good in Moderation for a Good Night’s Sleep
As in nearly everything, there is some evidence that states that UV Light in moderation can be good for our eyes and offer a better night’s sleep. During sleep, our eyes enjoy continuous lubrication and clear out irritants such as dust, allergens or smoke that may have accumulated during the day. “Some research suggests that light-sensitive cells in the eye are important to our ability to regulate wake-sleep cycles,” said Dr. Green. This may be more critical for older adults; people who generally have problems with insomnia. “While it’s important that we protect our eyes from overexposure to UV light, our eyes also need minimal exposure to natural light every day to help maintain normal sleep-wake cycles.”
As you soak up the rays remember to take advantage of the benefits of sunshine while also remembering the UV blocking sunglasses and other precautions when your eyes need it most. Enjoy your summer fun.