As we head towards the festive season, the daylights are getting longer, which means we are exposed to the harmful UV rays emitted from the sun. We can see and experience the damage the sun can do, such as getting sunburnt and glare. While we are SunSmart with putting on sunscreen, it is essential to remember your eyes are exposed just as much as your skin.
UV Rays and your Eyes
We understand that repeated exposure leads to sunburns and increasing the risk of skin cancer. Your eyes are no exception, and repeated UV exposure to your eyes lead to ocular complications which may affect your vision permanently.
When the UV from the sunlight enters our eyes, it hits the front surface of the eye; the conjunctiva and the cornea. Just as the UV light hits our skin, it can create sunburns and irritation; the same goes for the eyes. Prolonged UV exposure to our eyes leads to irritated conjunctiva. With repeated exposure, the conjunctiva starts to grow new cells, causing pingueculum. The surface of this growth is rough and uneven and can often become irritated. The change can be quite extensive and starts to protrude towards the cornea, the transparent part of the eye, often known as the “window” of the eye. Depending on the size and the nature of the pingueculum, can become a pterygium and distort the cornea (or the window). As you can image, this distorts your vision which sometimes could be corrected with glasses.
Just like the conjunctival cells can be damaged by UV rays directly, the same could happen to your corneal cells. Direct UV exposure to the corneal often causes irritation and teariness. This type of exposure could be from the reflection from the snowy mountains and hence the importance of wearing glare shields for skiers. Repeated direct corneal exposure to the sun could lead to solar keratopathy, which the patient experiences unbearable dry eye-related symptoms.
All the light rays and subsequently, the UV rays pass through our natural lens within the eye. Our natural lens provides some UV filtration in an attempt to prevent direct damage to our retina. Overtime with direct exposure, the lens starts to wear out and causes early-onset premature cataracts. Cataracts are essentially the cloudiness of the lenses. As you can imagine, this would make your vision blurry like looking through a translucent film.
As a child, you probably burnt paper using a magnifying glass. This is because you are focussing all the light energy concentrated to one single point (the focal point). Our eyes similarly focus light rays and concentrate this on the macula. Over time if we are not careful, we can cause irreversible damage to our macula and affecting your vision permanently. Patients who are fans of spotting solar and lunar eclipses are at a very high risk of developing solar retinopathy. Whilst the “sunglasses filter” helps with the contrast whilst looking at the eclipse, it doesn’t provide the much-needed UV protection to avoid damages to the retina.
Protecting Your Eyes from the Sun
- Sunglasses. Wearing proper sunglasses with UV protection. In Australia and New Zealand, sunglasses are rated in different categories. Sunglasses which falls under Category 3 or above offer the best UV protection. All sunglasses available through Capital Eye are category 3 or above. Whilst Category 4 provides the best UV protection; this category is reserved for particular purposes such as some ski masks and welding helmets for special purposes.
- Prescription Glasses and Contact Lenses. Some prescription optical lenses and contact lenses provide UV protection. However, it is important to note some photochromatic lenses; lenses that go dark outside automatically may not have UV protection and provides glare reduction only. UV protection isn’t a fancy antireflective or blue-blocking coating. It is a filter built within your prescription lenses.
- Hats. Hats and shades provide natural protection from the UV rays itself. Similarly, wrap-around sunglasses offer the best protection from the damaging UV rays.
The Bottom Line
Your eyes are regularly exposed to the harsh environmental elements. Whilst once-off exposure event may not be noticed; it is the repeated unprotected UV exposure which causes unwanted ocular changes and side effects which could affect your vision permanently. Prevention is always better than the cure, and at Capital Eye, we offer ways to protect your eyes this Summer. Suppose you haven’t had your eyes checked recently within the last 2 or 3 years. In that case, a simple, comprehensive eye examination can determine the current state of your eyes, detect any pre-existing damage and advice to prevent them from getting worse.
Stay safe in the sun this Summer.