Protecting your eyes from the sun can feel a bit complicated. Everyone’s always talking about UVA and UVB rays, and it’s not as easy as buying sunscreen when it comes to your eyeballs. How do our eyes come to be affected negatively by UV rays? Luckily, as by the American Academy for Ophthalmology, a lot of the ways the sun interacts with our eyes aren’t that different from the more commonly discussed ways they affect our skin.
Blurs & Burns
UVB rays, known as the most intense rays that make it to the Earth’s surface, can do some serious, unexpected eye damage. You may have heard of a condition called photokeratitis, more commonly known as snow-blindness; this is the result of skiers and mountain climbers experiencing painful vision problems caused UVB rays shining down intensely at the high altitudes and reflecting back onto the face from the snow. The name doesn’t suggest it, but this condition can actually happen at the beach, or any long outdoor excursions if you don’t protect yourself with 100% UV protection sunglasses. Water and sand are extra reflective too.UVB rays are known as the cause of sunburns, and this condition is essentially a sunburn on the cornea (the clear layer at the front of your eye).
The same way the sun damages skin cells and causes their DNA to change in response, the cells that make the clear lens of your eye can change to a foggy colour with too much sun exposure. When this damage is repeated or extreme, it becomes long term and what we know as cataracts.
Big Lenses and a Good Fit
The same conditions that put you at risk for photokeratitis also put you at greater risk of eye cancers that appear on the surface of the eyeball. On the subject of sunburns, keep in mind that the eyelids and skin around the eye are super sensitive and burn easily. UVA and UVB rays together can cause growths on the eyelid, eyeball itself (which can really damage your vision) and skin cancer around the eye area. That’s why it’s super important to make sure your sunglass lenses are not too small, and provide some good coverage for the entire area.
Does it look or feel like the light is leaking into your eye around your sunglasses? If so, it might be time to go shopping for some bigger lenses, and when you do, be sure that they fit well on the face so you don’t leave the eye area open to damage.
UVA and UVB rays typically don’t make it all the way to the back of the inner eyeball, or reflective layer called the retina. However, with extreme exposure, without protection for long amounts of time this can become a problem area.
This is why it’s really important that we all take the time to pick out a pair of 100% UV protection certified sunglasses that fit well, and have some strong coverage. Always have a facial sunscreen that you know doesn’t irritate the sensitive skin around your eyes. When you’re on the beach or surrounded by snow, UV blocking goggles are a must. You don’t know what UVA/UVB really means? Check out our article on UVA/UVB differences and similarities!