The Effects Of UV Rays On Your Eyes
Children frequently hear the warning, “Don’t stare at the sun or you’ll go blind,” and there’s truth in that age-old warning. The sun radiates UV rays that cause eye damage. Extended or lifetime overexposure to the sun increases your risk for several serious eye conditions as well as vision loss.
Overexposure To Sunlight Harms Eye Health & Vision
While much of the focus on UV damage focuses on skin cancer, primarily life-threatening melanomas, it’s important to understand the risks UV damage poses to the eyes.
The sun emits three different types of UV rays:
- UVA: These are the least powerful of the three but still contribute to faster aging of eye and skin tissues, causing wrinkles and age spots. UVAs also affect the eyes’ surface and are linked to certain skin cancers.
- UVB: These rays are more powerful than UVA and do damage to DNA. This is how they compromise eye anatomy and visual acuity. UVB is the cause of sunburns, eye irritation/damage, and most sun-related skin cancers.
- UVC: The strongest and most harmful UV rays, UVC is largely blocked by the earth’s atmosphere. However, they are present in welding torches and UV sanitizing bulbs, so individuals working around that equipment must exercise extra caution.
Moderate “doses” of natural sunlight to the eyes and skin are actually good for you and are essential to the natural assimilation and absorption of vitamin D. However, overexposure is harmful and compromises eye health.
5 Eye Conditions Linked To UV Ray Exposure
In addition to accelerating the aging of surface tissues, including the eyes, excessive UV exposure is a major risk factor for developing these five eye conditions:
A pinguecula is a visible accumulation of excess fat and protein tissues occurring in the white portion of the eye (the sclera). It causes irritation, and if it grows large enough, a pinguecula can affect the eye’s tear production and drainage.
Pterygium is closely associated with sun-damaged eyes that we refer to this condition as “surfer’s eye.” Pterygium often begins as pinguecula but can form independently. These fatty/protein deposits grow on the sclera and extend onto the cornea (the clear, front portion of the eye) and can block the pupil, leading to vision loss. While they’re referred to as surfer’s eye, they can also affect those who fish as a hobby or career (due to the sun’s reflection off the water) as well as snow enthusiasts that don’t take proper precautions from the winter sun.
Cataracts are among the most common causes of vision loss, especially in seniors. However, people who experience chronic UV exposure without proper precaution are more prone to developing cataracts and may develop them earlier in life.
Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD)
Like cataracts, ARMD is another common cause of vision loss mostly linked to heredity and aging. However, older adults who neglected sun protection in their younger years are more likely to develop ARMD or to experience more severe cases.
Cancers of the eyelid and eye
Finally, UV rays on your eyes can cause cancer in eye tissues the same way they do on the rest of the eyes. Cancers of the eyelid, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are linked to UV exposure. Other optical cancers bear no connection to UV-related damage.
Can The Eyes Heal From Sun Damage?
Most of the time, the eyes heal to a point from acute sun exposure. For example, if you spend a day near or on the water or snow without proper sun protection (sunglasses with UV-blocking lenses, hats, staying in the shade as much as possible, etc.) you’ll suffer the effects. And, with a little TLC, those symptoms typically correct themselves.
However, there is still a chance that long-term DNA damage has occurred and it will show up in a later diagnosis - such as one of the conditions listed above.
Symptoms of sun damage from UV rays on your eyes
Overexposure to UV rays shows up in very physical and tangible ways. Symptoms include:
- Red and irritated eyes
- A scratch/gritty feeling or the feeling that something is in the eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Temporary vision loss - typically blurry or distorted vision
- Light sensitivity
- Seeing halos around lights
- Night vision issues
It’s very important that you resist the urge to rub your eyes as this worsens inflammation and damage.
You can soothe these symptoms by:
- Take a nap (remaining in a dark room with closed eyes is the best way for them to heal).
- Remove contacts and use eyeglasses for a few days (or until symptoms have completely disappeared).
- Bathing the eyes with cool, damp compresses.
- Generously using preservative-free eye drops to soothe and flush the eyes.
- Avoiding sources of direct light (which may include wearing sunglasses indoors).
- Remaining indoors or in deep shade (avoid the sun and reflective surfaces).
- Taking a break from screens as they contribute to direct light/glare and eye strain.
Experiencing acute cases of sun damage to the eyes is a wake-up call, reminding you to take proactive care of your eyes in the future.
Suffering The Effects Of UV Rays On Your Eyes?
Are you worried about recent sun damage to your eyes or a member of your family? Contact Eye to Eye Family Vision Care. We’ll listen to your symptoms and determine whether or not an appointment is necessary. We can also make recommendations about the best UV protective lenses based on your job, hobbies, or age.
Also, don’t forget that children need equally high-quality UV-blocking lenses. We’ll show you our children’s lines of optometrist-approved sunglasses.