In a hot country such as Spain, most of us are concerned with protecting our skin from sun damage, yet forget about protecting our eyes. Sunglasses are the main way to protect ourselves from sun exposure, but are they really doing their job? Are they being worn as often as they should be, and for long enough?
Exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can lead to cataracts, macular degeneration, pterygia, pinguecula, and eyelid skin cancer. Damage can be caused immediately and go un-noticed, but the long term effects are something we really need to help prevent.
Specsavers, the UK’s most trusted optician wants to make sure we’re protecting our eyes all year round and has compiled the following guide to help.
Caring for your eyes this summer
Experts say, that teenagers and young adults in their 20s and 30s, who are exposed to sunlight around 5 hours per day with no hat or glasses, doubles the chances of developing early age related macular degeneration and other problems.
Studies show that between the hours of 10am – 4pm the sun’s rays are at their strongest, and protection should always be worn when outside, especially during these hours. Even reflections from sand, snow, pavements, and water can all damage the eye without even looking up or leaving the shade, so sunglasses should always be worn outside.
It is recommended that we wear sunglasses even on cloudy days, especially in a country like Spain where the sunlight is stronger all year round. Sun damage is purely caused by UV, not brightness itself, so even when it’s cloudy the rays still get to you. In fact it can be worse for the eyes, as our natural tendency is to squint when faced with bright light, but if it’s cloudy we won’t naturally squint, therefore letting all the harmful rays in easily.
Children under 10 should definitely be protected as much as possible from sunlight damage to the eyes. This is because children’s eyes are not able to block as much UV as adults’ eyes can, and unfortunately the eyes never really recover from it. Sunglasses and a hat will give the best protection for children’s eyes and there are some special children’s glasses on the market which are high protection and don’t easily fall off.
It’s interesting to note that children and adults with lighter coloured eyes are more at risk of sun damage to the eyes, in the same way those with pale skin are more likely to burn, so they should take extra care.
The dangers of sun damage
Putting it simply, we can burn our eyes the same way we can burn our skin. Sunburn of the cornea (the eye’s surface), hugely increases the risk of bad eye health later on, as well as being rather painful. Staring directly into the sun light, even briefly, can permanently scar the retina, which is solely responsible for vision, and many of us do it without realising.
Exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can lead to the following common eye problems:
- Cataracts - Cataracts are common in over-60s. The lens becomes opaque, blurring vision and even leading to loss of sight if left untreated. Early on, the condition may cause near-sightedness and the reduction in perception of blue colours. Surgery is the most effective way to restore vision.
- Macular degeneration - In older people, the macula – the centre of the retina which is used for detailed vision – thins and occasionally bleeds. This can lead to distortion of, or even the loss of, central vision. The sufferer may also have trouble discerning colours. Peripheral vision remains unaffected, but central vision loss is serious, so early diagnosis and treatment is vital.
- Eyelid skin cancer - Roughly 10% of all types of skin cancer occurs on the eyelids as the skin in that area is very thin making it much more likely to develop skin cancer.
- Pinguecula is a condition which can be caused by sun damage. It is more common in middle aged or older people who spent a lot of time in the sun, however the condition can also occur in younger people and children who are exposed to UV without protection. Pingueculae are small, yellowish, slightly raised lesions that form on the surface of the white part of the eye. They can cause irritation, a feeling that there is something in the eye, and dry eyes. In some cases, the pingueculae can become swollen and inflamed causing more aggravation which can then lead to Pterygia.
- Pterygium is scar tissue that can grow over the surface of the eye and impair the vision. Same as Pinguecula, they are very irritating, and visually unappealing. The condition can be treated with surgery, although more than half will grow back. Prevention is the key though, and it’s never too late to get protected.
Buying the right sunglasses
When buying sunglasses, make sure they offer the right level of protection for your eyes. Look for UVA and UVB protection of 99% or higher. This does not necessarily come with an expensive designer pair, so be sure to ask when buying. Yellow tinted glasses also protect the eyes from blue light rays which may also cause damage. Big sunglasses or the wrap around style are the best as they offer protection around the sides of the eyes as well as the front. Be especially careful with children’s glasses as they are often more of a toy and do not protect the eye at all.
If you currently wear glasses, there is also the option of having reaction lenses fitted. These clever lenses change automatically from clear to tinted depending on the level of light, so you are protected at all times, and don’t have to compromise your vision when wearing sunglasses.