Spring is springing around the nation (although where I live, we’re already seeing hints of summer’s high temperatures). The morning chirps of the birds, the greening of grass, and the emergence of leaves on the trees - all of that makes me want to head outdoors to exercise.
However, I had a not-so-fun surprise when I went for an eye exam. While my vision hadn’t changed much, the optometrist did share with me that I had developed tiny cataracts. When I asked if there was anything I could do, my eye doctor said, "Be sure to wear sunglasses." Since then, I’ve tried to be ever vigilant about putting on a pair of shades when I head outdoors to take my dog for a walk or to ride a bicycle.
The Sun and Eye Health
It turns out that I’m not alone in not realizing the dangers of sun damage. "Embarrassing, but true - when we go to the beach, we worry about shark attacks or sting rays," the Lighthouse International website states. "In fact, true threats are often much more dramatic but all the more real: A day on the water should have us more concerned with sun damage."
Excessive sunlight exposure tend to cause eye disorders and cancers in older people as well as people with fair skin and either blue or green eyes.
It turns out that ultraviolet radiation is the culprit. That’s because the thin tissues of the eyelids, while limiting the amount of light that enters the eye, also are vulnerable to the chronic effects of regular exposure to this type of radiation.
There are short-term and long-term effects of exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The short-term issues can include:
- _Eye irritation _ - You may experience discomfort in your eye, but the irritation usually ends quickly.
- _Photokeratitis _ - This condition involves a painful burn to the cornea that is caused by short-term exposure to UVB rays (which are the medium-wavelength rays that cause sunburn and premature skin aging) from a highly reflective surface (such as water, concrete, sand or snow). This condition may last for several days and cause temporary vision loss. Furthermore, long-term. However, this condition also has been linked to long-term damage of both the cornea and the conjunctiva.
Long-term effects of exposure to UV rays include:
- _Cataracts _ - This condition involves the clouding of the eye lens. The cataract makes objects hazy, thus obscuring vision. While there isn’t firm research linking sunlight exposure and cataracts, researchers do have a hypothesis that exposure to UVA radiation (which are long-wavelength rays that tan the skin and that are also emitted by sunlamps as well as tanning beds) causes the lens to discolor and harden into a cataract.
- _Age-related macular degeneration _ - New research suggests that exposure over time to high-energy visible radiation from the sun (known as blue light) may damage the macula, which is a cluster of light-sensitive cells in the retina that allow for crisp central vision and observing detail. Furthermore, some researchers have identified an association between UVA radiation exposure and the development of this condition.
- Growths on the eye - Growths known as pterygium and pinguecula often show up among anyone who spends a lot of time under the mid-day sun or in UV-intense conditions (such as around water or snow).
- Cancer - Excessive exposure to the sun has been linked with several types of cancers of the eye and the eyelid. The most common type of eyelid cancer is basal cell carcinoma, which accounts for more than 80 percent of cancers of the eyelids. Approximately five percent of eyelid cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Furthermore, melanoma can develop on the eye itself as well as on skin surrounding the eye.
Protecting Your Eyes from Sun Exposure
So what can you do to protect your eyes? Lighthouse International recommends the following:
- _Limit sun exposure _ - Stay out of the sun if at all possible between 10 am. And 2 p.m. when you would be exposed to the most direct sunlight (and have higher UV exposure).
- _Wear a good pair of sunglasses _ - Opt for a pair that blocks 99 percent or more of UVA and UVB radiation. Pick a wraparound style, which provides the best UV protection. Also make sure that the lenses match in color and are free of flaws and distortions. Polarized lenses also will help lower glare.
- Wear contact lenses that block UV rays - Contact lenses are now being made that have UV-blocking optical materials. These lenses filter out UV rays, thus providing an additional layer of protection. There are two classes of contact lenses. The first, FDA Class II lenses, are designed for general sue. Class I lenses are designed to be used by a person who is going to be in any highly reflective environment (such as on the beach).
- _Wear a hat to shade your face. _
- _Use sunscreen around your eyes and on your eyelids. _
Primary Source for This Sharepost:
Lighthouse International. (nd.) Sun damage prevention.
EyeSmart. (nd.) The sun, UV radiation and your eyes. American Academy of Ophthalmology and the Eye M.D. Association.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.