Whether you prefer aviators, wayfarers, or heart-shaped glasses, sunglasses are more than just an accessory, they’re also an important part of your eye health. During the summer months, you’re likely spending more time outdoors. That means you’re exposing your eyes to more sunlight, which can be damaging to your eye health. On top of spending more time outdoors, the sun’s rays are also stronger during the summer–putting your eyes at even greater risk for exposure to harmful UV rays.
The Dangers of UV exposure
According to the American Optometric Association, even just one day of prolonged exposure to UV rays can damage your eye health. That’s why a pair of UV-blocking shades–plus a hat for extra protection–are essential whether you’re spending time on the beach, hiking, or working outdoors.
Plus, you don’t need to be outdoors to come in contact with harmful UV rays. The artificial rays from tanning beds have the same harmful effects on eye health. Similarly, if you work with lasers or welding, you’ll need eye protection indoors as well.
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Risks Associated with UV Exposure
Cataracts are very common in older adults. Exposure to UV rays can contribute to cataracts, which can result in blurred vision, light sensitivity, and difficulty distinguishing colors. The National Eye Institute states that more than half of all adults over the age of 80 either have cataracts or have had treatment for cataracts.
Studies suggest that prolonged exposure to UV light without protection can contribute to the formation of cataracts. In other words, people who spend lots of time outdoors are at an even greater risk for cataracts. Fortunately, sunglasses and hats can provide ample protection from the sun’s rays.
People who suffer from macular degeneration may have trouble distinguishing detail. This can make once-easy tasks like reading or driving much more difficult. Macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness in adults over the age of 55, and UV damage is a contributing factor.
Unlike cataracts, for which surgery is safe and often successful, there is no known cure for macular degeneration. Through sun protection and a healthy lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of macular degeneration and protect your eye health.
Sun protection is just as important to the skin around your eyes as it is to the eyes themselves. The skin surrounding the eyes is extremely sensitive, so eyelid cancers are another risk associated with prolonged UV exposure. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, cancers on the eyelid can spread to the eye itself. Much like cataracts, they take years of frequent exposure to develop.
People who spend extended periods of time on the water like fishermen, surfers or boaters are at an increased risk for pterygium and pinguecula, which are non-cancerous growths on the eye’s surface. These conditions can cause discomfort like itching or burning, and they can impair vision.
Why Prevention is Key
Because most eye problems are associated with prolonged exposure to UV rays, sun protection is critical to preventing damage to the eyes and ultimately vision loss. Once you begin to notice the warning signs like blurry vision or difficulty identifying colors, it’s likely the condition is well into development. Depending on your vision problems, the condition may require surgery–like cataracts. In the worst-case scenario, there may be no treatment at all. Though treatments for conditions like cataracts are very safe and have excellent success rates, prevention is the ultimate goal.
Learn more: find out how companies can help employees take charge of their eye health.
How to Protect Your Eyes from UV Rays
- Always wear sunglasses and hats (even when it’s cloudy) to protect your eyes.
- Choose lenses that block UVA and UVB light.
- Don’t reserve sun protection just for the summer months–snow can reflect UV rays.
- Protect your eyes from artificial UV light as well like tanning beds, lasers, and welding machines.
- Be aware of risk factors: water, snow, and high altitudes can increase exposure to harmful UV rays.
Finally, talk to your eye doctor, and get regular eye exams. Regular exams are crucial to spotting problems early, and your doctor can offer guidance based on your unique risk factors and lifestyle.
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