Tips for summertime eye safety from the Grossmont Healthcare District

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Summer is here, which means fun outdoor outings, including swimming, picnics, hiking, bicycling and trips to the beach and golf course. But, when you go outside, will your eyes be protected from the sun?

While we might know to use sunscreen to protect our skin, not everyone may know how important it is to protect your eyes as well. Many Americans are aware of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and the damage that they cause, which increases the risks of sunburn and skin cancer. However, UV and other radiation from the sun can also harm your eyes.

Summer is here, which means fun outdoor outings, including swimming, picnics, hiking, bicycling and trips to the beach and golf course. But, when you go outside, will your eyes be protected from the sun?

While we might know to use sunscreen to protect our skin, not everyone may know how important it is to protect your eyes as well. Many Americans are aware of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and the damage that they cause, which increases the risks of sunburn and skin cancer. However, UV and other radiation from the sun can also harm your eyes.

Sunlight is the main source of UV rays. Generally speaking, UV rays are stronger during spring and summer months and strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The risk of damage to our eyes and skin from solar UV radiation is cumulative.

Vision-related diseases like cataract and eye cancers can take many years to develop, but each time we’re out in the sun without protection we could be adding to our risk. 

Overexposure to UV radiation has been linked to the development of certain types of cataracts. Even though age is the main risk factor for cataracts, UV rays can pass through the cornea and reach the lens and retina inside the eye, which increases the risk of more advanced cataracts and cataracts developing at an earlier age. The latest research suggests that UV rays may also play a role in development of macular degeneration, a condition that also causes vision loss.

Anyone who spends time outdoors is at risk for eye problems from UV radiation. Risks of eye damage from UV exposure change from day to day and depend on a number of factors, including time of day, altitude, geographic location and settings. UV levels are greater when highly reflective surfaces are present, such as snow and sand. Also, certain medications, such as tetracycline, sulfa drugs, birth control pills, diuretics and tranquilizers can increase your body’s sensitivity to UV radiation.

Children need UV protection even more than adults. It’s especially important for children to protect their eyes from the sun because they generally spend much more time outdoors than adults. Also, children are more susceptible to retinal damage from UV rays because the lens inside a child’s eye is clearer than an adult lens, enabling more UV to penetrate deep into the eye. Make sure your child’s eyes are protected from the sun with good quality sunglasses or photochromic lenses when they go outdoors. 

Don’t be fooled by clouds: the sun’s rays can pass through haze and thin clouds. Surprisingly, cloud cover doesn’t affect UV levels significantly. Your risk of UV exposure can be high even on hazy or overcast days. This is because UV is invisible radiation, not visible light, and can penetrate clouds.

To best protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays, always wear good quality sunglasses when you are outdoors. Not all sunglasses block 100 percent of UV rays. Skip any sunglasses that do not offer UV protection.

A Registered Ophthalmic Dispenser can help you choose the best sunglass lenses for your needs. By wearing UV-blocking sunglasses, you can enjoy the summer safely while lowering your risk for potentially blinding eye diseases and tumors. 

Here are the most important factors to consider when purchasing sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun: Look for sticker or tag indicating that they block 100 percent of UV rays. Consider buying oversized glasses or wraparound-style glasses, which help cut down on UV entering the eye from the side. Darker lenses don’t protect better, while very dark lenses may look stylish, they do not necessarily block more UV rays. Color doesn’t matter, the lenses may be amber, green or gray, which may increase contrast. Polarized lenses block glare and UV. Also, sunglasses don’t have to cost a lot of money to work well. Less expensive pairs marked as 100 percent UV-blocking can be just as effective as pricier options. Your eye care professional can help you choose the best sunglass lenses for your needs.

Even if your contact lenses block UV rays, you still need sunglasses. UV-blocking contacts shield only the part of your eye under the lens.

Remember to wear sunglasses even when you’re in the shade. Although shade reduces your UV exposure to some degree, your eyes will still be exposed to UV rays reflected from buildings, roadways and other surfaces.

Enjoy yourself and the outdoors and this summer. And, always wear your sunglasses.

About Michael A. Emerson

A Registered Ophthalmic Dispenser, Michael A. Emerson, FNAO, RDO, has served the community as a Grossmont Healthcare District board member since May 2008. He is also certified by the State Board of Medical Quality Assurance of the California Medical Board, and has owned Hart Optical Company of La Mesa since 1987. 

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