Outdoors, Prevention, Eye Health, Services

Everyone knows the importance of applying sunblock on their skin before spending the day out at the beach or hiking in the mountains.

However, when it comes to UV protection and our eyes, the awareness seems to be lacking. All too often when I spend the day at the beach and look around there are far too many people without appropriate eye protection. This is particularly evident with children.

We know that UV damage is cumulative and young eyes are the most vulnerable. Short-term complications such as photokeratitis, which is essentially sunburn of the cornea, can produce pain, tearing and light sensitivity.

Long-term and irreversible problems such as pterygium, macular degeneration, cataracts and ocular cancers all have risk factors associated with UV exposure. Our eyes absorb the same dangerous UV rays that we know can harm our skin, and it is imperative that we protect ourselves and our eyes.

The first line of defense is using eyewear that has high-quality lenses designed to block UVA and UVB rays. This can be in the form of sunglasses or regular prescription spectacles. The most important factor is that the lenses will prevent harmful UV rays from reaching the ocular structures. The shape of the frame and the size of the lenses are also important as reflected UV light is dangerous. Eyewear that fits well will minimize exposure.

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat will also help minimize the amount of UV that reaches the eyes and, combined with sunglasses, will provide adequate protection when spending extended periods in direct sunlight.

Contact lens wearers can get added protection by asking their eye care provider to fit them into contact lenses that have UV-blocking material. UV-blocking contact lenses are meant to be used in adjunct with appropriate sunglasses and not as a replacement, as they only cover the cornea and will leave the surrounding structures vulnerable.

Whether you are working or relaxing outdoors, everyone should be mindful of their eyes and sun exposure. Children are more at risk and should be protected early on and taught the hazards of not wearing appropriate eyewear.

Almost all sun damage to the eyes is preventable, so the next time you leave the house remember to grab your sunglasses and make sure your family gets into the habit of grabbing theirs as well. Your eyes will thank you for it.