Protect Your Peepers

Keep Your Eyes Safe While Enjoying Summer Fun

by Mackenzie Dziedzic, OD // July - August - September 2023

UV light is invisible to the human eye, yet can be absorbed by the eye, increasing the risk of eye disease. We all love fun in the sun, especially after some of the rainy, cloudy spring months, but it’s important to remember not only to wear sunscreen to protect your skin against the harmful rays, but also to protect your eyes this summer.

Long term exposure to sunlight can cause chronic eye conditions such as cataracts, pinguecula, macular degeneration, and even skin cancer of the eyelids. Never stare directly into the sun! Doing so can cause irreversible retinal damage and cause blind spots in one’s central vision. This also includes eclipse viewing and expo-sure to laser pointers.

Most of us correlate sun exposure to skin damage or skin cancer. The eyelids are the thinnest skin on your body and can be very sensitive to UV exposure. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. Thankfully, there is low risk for it to spread to other parts of the body, and if detected in the early stages, a surgical procedure may be performed to remove the affected area. Like any other type of skin cancer, it is important to have any new lesions or growing bumps of the eyelid evaluated by your eye care provider.

Have you ever noticed a raised yellow/white bump on the white of your eyes? At some point, most people will develop benign growths on the inner and outer parts of the conjunctiva, called pinguecula. These raised lesions are caused by UV damage, and for most people, it does not become a problem. But in more serious cases, it can cause redness, inflammation, dryness, and trouble wearing contact lenses. A pterygium is another growth of the conjunctiva caused by UV radiation and differs as it is a wedge-shaped growth that usually extends onto the cornea, the outer layer of the eye. As a pterygium grows, it can cause distorted and blurred vision.

Cataracts are a very common eye condition that develop as we age. The lens of the eye absorbs UV light and acts as a protective barrier to the retina. Prolonged UV exposure to the lens causes it to thicken and become cloudy, creating a cataract. Once a cataract matures, surgery is required in order to improve vision.

Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world, and while most cases are linked to increasing age, genetics, and tobacco use, UV light can contribute to retinal damage. The macula is the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail in your central vision. There is currently no treatment for dry macular degeneration, but your optometrist may recommend taking eye vitamins, wearing sunglasses, avoiding tobacco products, and eating a well-balanced diet.

The most important way to protect your eyes against UV damage is with sunglasses. Not all are made the same, so it is important to make sure yours block both UV-A and UV-B rays. The American Academy of Optometry recommends sunglasses that block 100% of UV or UV absorption up to 400nm. Polarized sunglasses filter light differently than the average tinted lens, as polarization helps reduce glare and eye strain. These are especially helpful when on the water, beach, or in snowy conditions. Wraparound sunglasses provide the most protection, as they block UV light from all angles. Check with your optometrist or optician for the best ones for your lifestyle.

Contact lenses are a great alternative to glasses, and some have a UV blocking benefit. Most brands claim to block 97% of UV-B and 81% of UV-A rays; however, a good portion of the eye and the eyelids still remain exposed when outside. It’s important to remember to wear sunglasses over your contact lenses to shade the eyes and protect the portions of the eye not covered by a contact lens.

Next time you’re outside or headed to the beach, don’t forget to apply sunscreen and wear your darkly tinted polarized sunglasses, even on those cloudy days. Wearing sunglasses will reduce your risk of potential eye diseases and allow you and your family to safely enjoy the sun this summer.

Mackenzie Dziedzic, OD

With McPherson Family Eye Care.