While we all know to slather on the sunscreen to protect our skin from the sun, we don’t all realize that our eyes are also vulnerable to damage from the sun. Eyes can get damaged and even sunburned from too much ultraviolet (UV) exposure, which means they need protection just as much as our skin does.
Unprotected eyes are susceptible to ultraviolet A and B (UVA/UVB) rays, which can actually burn the eyes. If you've spent several hours in the sun and your eyes are watering, itchy, sensitive to light, or dry and gritty, it's likely you have sunburned eyes. And like sunburned skin, sunburned eyes aren't just irritating - repeated exposure to UV rays can lead to cataracts, macular degeneration, and cancer of the eye and eye lid later in life, which can seriously impair a person’s vision and even lead to permanent blindness.
If you suspect your eyes are sunburned, don't take any chances – visit your eye doctor immediately. They can determine whether you do indeed have sunburned eyes and what treatment may be warranted.
Fortunately, prevention is easy. A wide-brimmed hat can shade your eyes and block rays from above. Keep in mind, though, that UV can come from many directions and is often reflected off the ground. This makes sunglasses a must when outdoors, even in cold winter months and on cloudy days. To best protect your eyes, look for sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection and HEV, near-UV or blue-light filtering.
Without these features, your eyes are defenseless against the sun’s rays. Just as those with fair skin are more at risk for skin cancer from the sun, people with lighter eyes are also more at risk from the sun’s damage to their eyes. Frame size is also important. Larger frames wrap around your entire field of vision, which prevents light from sneaking in at the sides or top of your glasses.
These simple precautions will sufficiently protect your eyes, leaving you with great vision for many summers to come!