There’s no shortage of information about ultraviolet (UV) rays and how prolonged, unprotected exposure to UV light can lead to skin damage. It’s why we wear UV-blocking sunscreen when we’re outdoors. Sunscreens offer varying degrees of protection by filtering out harmful UVA and UVB wavelengths of light.
But did you know that the same serious approach to sun damage should apply to your eyes?
UV protection is critical to eye health
Many people don’t realize that the sun’s harmful UV rays can harm their eye health and vision just as easily as it can damage their skin. In the short-term, overexposure to sunlight and UV radiation can cause eye strain and headaches, as well as a painful “sunburn” of the eye called photokeratitis. Symptoms of photokeratitis may include a feeling of grittiness in the eye, redness, pain and swelling, and sensitivity to light. Though this condition normally clears up on its own, particularly severe cases may require prescription eye drops from your eye doctor to ward off eye infection.
Over the long term, overexposure to UV light can significantly increase the risk of developing potentially sight-threatening eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.
So, what can you do to protect your eyes?
Here are a few tips:
Know When UV Radiation Is Highest
Many people believe that UV radiation is at its highest at noon, since that’s when the sun is highest in the sky. In reality, exposure to UV radiation is highest in the late morning and mid-afternoon from roughly 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Though you should protect your eyes any time you’re outdoors, these are the times when you need to be most vigilant to prevent UV overexposure.
Wear Quality UV-Resistant Eyewear When You Go Out
Exposure to ultraviolet rays is cumulative, which is why wearing lenses with maximum UV protection is so very important, even when the sun isn’t shining. UV rays are always present outdoors—on sunny days, cloudy days and every day in between.
Depending on what type of eyeglass lenses or sunglasses you have, it’s possible you already have ultraviolet protection built into the lens or applied as a lens treatment.
Also, keep in mind that just because your glasses are polarized doesn’t necessarily mean that they also protect your eyes from UV light. Although polarized lenses reduce glare and make your vision more comfortable, unless they specifically state that they protect against UV radiation, it’s safe to assume they don’t. However, your eye doctor can prescribe a pair of polarized glasses that protect not only against glare but against UV rays.
If you’re interested in wearing a single pair of glasses that act as both your normal prescription glasses and your sunglasses, consider asking our eye doctors about photochromic lenses. These UV protective lenses remain clear indoors and darken in reaction to the sunlight as you step outside.
Don’t Settle For Cheap Sunglasses
When it comes to sunglasses, you get what you pay for. Cheap sunglasses that don’t offer full protection against UVA and UVB rays may look good, but they won’t protect you. In fact, they may actually hurt your eyes. This is because darkened lenses without UV protection trick your eyes into believing you’re in darker (and therefore less UV-rich) surroundings. This causes the pupil to enlarge to let in more light. However, since cheap sunglasses aren’t filtering UV light, your larger pupils also let in more UV rays, causing increased damage to structures in the eye such as the retina and macula, which are essential for central and detailed vision. This may greatly increase your risk of developing macular degeneration and similar conditions in the future.
Consider Wearing Wraparound Sunglasses
The fewer UV rays that can reach your eyes, the better, but standard sunglass frames can’t prevent sunlight from entering your eyes from the sides and above. This is why many eye care experts recommend wearing wrap-around sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap.
You Should Wear Sunglasses Even On Cloudy Days
People sometimes think that if it’s a cloudy day and the sun isn’t shining through, that there’s no need to wear sunglasses. This isn’t true. Even when it’s cloudy out, the sun’s UV rays come through, making it just as essential to wear sunglasses on cloudy days as it is to wear them on sunny days.
Never Look Directly At The Sun
You may think this goes without saying, but many people are hurt every year by acting on the mistaken belief that sunglasses allow a person to look directly at the sun. Though sunglasses will protect you from UV rays hitting your eyes, the sun is far too bright to ever be looked at directly under any circumstances. Looking directly into the sun can permanently damage the retina and other sensitive parts of the eye, which may cause a significant loss of vision, including possible blindness.
Protect Your Kids’ Eyes Especially Well
For many reasons, kids’ eyes need even better protection from the dangers of UV radiation than adults’ do. This is because their lenses tend to be clearer and their pupils tend to be larger than those of adults. This allows significantly more UV light into the eye, raising the potential for damage to the macula and retina, increasing the risk of conditions such as macular degeneration later in life.
For kids, the best beach time is during non-peak UV hours. In addition to wearing sunglasses and hats, it’s important to keep children in the shade as much as possible. Parents should ensure that the sunglasses they choose for their child help them feel comfortable and confident, so that they’ll agree to wear them. When possible, parents should involve their kids in selecting their sunglasses. Wrap-around sunglasses are also a great way to protect the sensitive skin around your child’s eyes.
Want to learn more about the best ways to protect your family’s eyes from potential damage from UV radiation? Come visit our eye doctors at or give us a call at today.