Although it is integral to the existence of the human race, sunlight can also be dangerous and cause harm to the body if care is not taken. Not only is it a cause of sunburn and skin cancer, the sun also poses a significant threat to our eyes.
Many eye conditions are caused or exacerbated by exposure to the sun’s harmful ultra violet (UV) rays, with an estimated 20 per cent of cataract cases attributed to sun damage.1
Macular degeneration, which is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world2, can be caused or sped up by retinal damage from sun exposure, and pterygium – a tissue growth that can cause curvature of the eyeball – can also be worsened.
Sources of sun damage
There are two main forms of UV light emitted by the sun; Ultraviolet A and Ultraviolet B, also known as UVA and UVB. Both can be major causes of eye damage, as well as affecting the areas around the eyes, such as the eyelids.
The sun also emits high-energy visible light (HEV); a contributor to cataracts and other serious eye problems, which damages the retinal membrane.
Although eyes are designed to filter some UV rays, years of accumulated exposure can damage them, while the skin on the eyelid is one of the thinnest parts of the body and so is particularly susceptible to the effect of sunlight.
Cancer is a significant risk factor from sun exposure in and around the eye, with eye cancers having increased threefold in the past 30 years and eyelid cancer representing 5 to 10 per cent of all skin cancer cases.3
Corneal sunburn, also known as keratitis, is another danger, and can be caused by excessive sun exposure, particularly at high altitudes.4
How to protect yourself
With so many risks, it is essential you take as many precautions as possible to safeguard yourself from the sun’s harmful rays; a good place to start is by wearing sunglasses.
Sunglasses should have lenses that either absorb or block UV rays – and they’re not just for summer, these should ideally be worn all year round to ensure maximum protection, as UV rays can penetrate through clouds and haze even on dull days.
Also look for sunglasses that meet safety standards, including the CE mark, which proves they conform to the European Community Standard, and that they satisfy British Standard BS EN 1836:2005, meaning they will provide high levels of protection against UV light.
Bear in mind that the shade of the lenses does not necessarily equate to the protection factor, with often the best options regarded as neutral grey, green or brown, which offer the most comfortable levels of vision. As a general rule, opt for sunglasses that absorb and block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB light, guard against HEV light, are a sufficient size to shield the eyes and surrounding areas, and are durable.
Another useful feature is polarised lenses, which eliminate glare, especially when driving, and are particularly useful in environments where reflections can magnify glare.
Taking a proactive approach to sun protection can help to safeguard your skin and your eyesight, not only during the summer months, but all year round! Why not check out our blog on how to stay sun safe!
1 National Eye Institution https://nei.nih.gov/hvm/healthy_eyes_glasses
2 World Health Organisation http://www.who.int/blindness/causes/en/
3 Skincancer.org http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/for-your-eyes/protect-your-eyes
4 NHS http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/skin/Pages/Sunsafe.aspx#eyes