Eye Damage from the Sun

Eye Damage From the Sun

Sun Damage

We all know that too much sun exposure can age you quicker, but what affect does it have on your eyes? Too much exposure to UV light can cause significant eye damage, and increase the risk of developing certain eye diseases such as cataract, cancer, and eye growths. These conditions may develop over several years, but each instance of unprotected exposure contributes to sun damage to your eyes.

UV Basics

UV radiation is invisible, and made up of 3 main wavelengths: UVA, UVB and UVC. While the cornea of the eye absorbs most UVB rays, UVA radiation passes through the cornea to the lens and retina. The atmosphere filters out most UVC radiation. While summertime may seem to pose the most risk, eye damage from sunlight can occur at any time of the year. Protecting your skin and eyes from UV rays with hats and sunglasses is always a good idea. Furthermore, cloudy weather can be deceptive. While it may not seem as hot or bright outside on cloudy days, UV rays can pass through thin clouds and cause damage. Looking directly into the sun, even during an eclipse, can cause severe damage to the retina. Direct sunlight is not the only way UV radiation can hurt your eyes. When UV rays reflect off ice and snow, a person can suffer from a painful condition called snow blindness. Snow blindness may not be apparent until hours after exposure, and can cause blurry vision, pain and swelling of the eyes.

Short Term Eye Damage From UV Radiation

Photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis are both conditions in which the eye becomes inflamed from exposure to UV radiation. While photokeratitis affects the outermost part of the eye, the cornea, photoconjunctivitis irritates the mucous membranes of the eyeball and eyelid. These conditions can be caused by looking at the sun or bright light (such as a welder’s torch flame), or from exposure to the reflection from snow, ice, concrete and water. UVB is responsible for this type of damage. Sufferers may feel as if the eye has been sunburned. Although painful, symptoms usually disperse after a day or two.

Symptoms include:

  • Eye swelling
  • Blurry vision
  • Watery eyes
  • Excessive blinking
  • A ‘gritty’ feeling in the eye
  • Light sensitivity

Serious & Long Term Problems

Risk of sun damage to the eye is higher for people who spend more time outdoors, whether it be from work or hobbies. For example, farmers and avid cyclists may be more likely to develop eye problems. Some more severe conditions include:

Cataracts: This condition is characterized by a gradual clouding of the lens, and can severely impair vision over time. They can be removed surgically.

Certain Cancers: Squamous cell cancers of the conjunctiva can eventually result in loss of sight. They first appear as a nodule on the front of the eye, and grow slowly. Skin cancer can develop on the thin skin around the eyes, and especially the eyelids. Some skin growths can be benign while others are cancerous (malignant).

Pterygium: Also known as ‘surfer’s eye’, this noncancerous overgrowth of the conjuntiva begins at the inner corner of the eye and can spread across the cornea. They usually resembles flesh in appearance. As they grow, they can impact vision, but can be removed surgically.

Make sure to protect your eyes when exposed to sunlight or UV reflection, and check with your doctor if you experience any signs of eye damage.

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