Protect Your Eyes From The Sun

Published on 07/31/2022

The sun emits invisible ultraviolet (UV) light rays that damage skin cells. This is one of the reasons why excess sun exposure (UV exposure) causes skin cancer. However, exposure to UV light, a source of radiation, is also harmful to the tissues in your eyes, which is why protecting your eyes from the sun is so important.

UV Rays From The Sun Causes Eye Injury & Vision Loss

The sun's UV rays damage DNA, ultimately damaging skin and tissue cells. It also poses a risk to the cornea and lens. The most common types of eye damage, injury, or vision loss associated with UV sun damage include:

  • Sun/snowblindness (photokeratitis). Photokeratitis or sun blindness occurs when the eyes are sunburned. While it can happen as the result of staring directly into the sun, most photokeratitis cases result from magnified UV rays reflected off the sun, water, or sand. This is one of the reasons it’s often referred to as “snowblindness."
  • Pinguecula. A pinguecula is a small, yellowish/cream-colored bump that develops on the white of the eye (the conjunctiva). It is a direct result of too much sun exposure without enough protection. In addition to being an unwanted change in the way your eye looks. A pinguecula causes irritation, a continuous feeling that something is in the eye. If a pinguecula spreads across the cornea or develops its own vascular system, we call it a pterygium.
  • Pterygium. These are like pinguecula in appearance. However, a pterygium encroaches on the cornea and also has its own blood vessels. Eventually, without treatment and continued protection from the sun, a pterygium can cause permanent vision loss.
  • Cataracts. Cataracts are most commonly associated with age or as a complication of diabetes. However, excessive sun exposure without proper eye protection puts you at risk of developing cataracts earlier and more rapidly in life.
  • Eye cancers. Like skin cancers, there is a direct correlation between sun exposure and eye cancer. This is one of the reasons we recommend that babies and young children are fitted for sunglasses and wear hats. Most cancers are the result of cumulative sun damage, so early protection is key to minimizing lifetime exposure rates.
  • Other eye conditions. Other eye conditions are also linked to excessive sun exposure, including corneal sunburn, macular degeneration, and early aging of the eye and surrounding tissues.

5 Best Ways To Protect Your Eyes From The Sun

Here are the five best things you can do to protect your eyes from the sun.

Bonus Tip: Understand that cloudy days have equal risk. UV rays travel right through the clouds, so adhere to these five recommendations when outside during the day - regardless of the clouds.

Wear sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection

When you’re shopping for sunglasses, look for sunglasses with labels boasting at least 99% protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Extra glare protections, such as polarization, are an added protection layer worth the investment. If you work outdoors regularly, speak to your optometrist about prescription safety sunglasses, which far outperform the cheaper quality safety glasses provided by most employers.

Don a broad-brimmed hat

Sun protection requires layers of different versions of sunblock. Your sunglasses are a great first step. Wearing a broad-brimmed hat is the next best recommendation. Baseball hats are good for protecting your eyes and your face from the sun. However, the sun is rarely located directly up and center, the only place the brim protects. 

Wearing a broad-brimmed hat (at least 3-inches wide) blocks sun rays from multiple angles, so you benefit from more comprehensive sun protection in your eyes as well as on your face, neck, and shoulders.

Take extra care near water, snow, or sand

Water, snow, and sand all reflect the sun’s rays back up from the earth’s surface. So, you can wind up exposed to double or quadruple the normal amount of UV rays coming down through the atmosphere as they bounce around off the reflective surfaces around you. 

Even something like attending a car show can increase UV exposure because the sun’s rays reflect off the windshields of multiple parked cars. This is why, at day’s end, you may notice you have a headache, red eyes, or that your eyes feel a bit scratchy - especially if you didn’t have sunglasses or a nice big hat to protect you.

Minimize sun exposure during peak hours (and at high altitudes)

Here in the Tulsa and Sapulpa area, peak sun hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., depending on the season. When possible, keep outdoor excursions and outings outside of these peak windows as much as possible. Also, understand the intensity of sun rays and UV radiation increase with altitude. If you’re heading into the mountains, take extra sun protection precautions.

Stick to the shade (or bring it with you) to protect your eyes

 Stick to the shady spots whenever you can. If there isn’t ample shade where you’re headed, or on a job site, bring it with you. Easy-up shade structures are very affordable and make a world of difference in terms of sun exposure and temperature - especially on a sunny day.

Eye To Eye Family Vision Care Is Here To Help

Spending plenty of time outdoors, moving in nature, is one of the best ways to get the exercise you need for mind, body, and soul - but we want to ensure you do it with the right level of sun protection for your eyes.

Have questions about your current sunglasses and whether they provide the right sun protection level? Are you worried current red or painful eyes - or blurred vision - is the result of a corneal sunburn? Call us at Eye to Eye Family Vision Care, at 918-227-3937, and we’ll take good care of you and your family.