Get Proactive about Protecting your Eyes
No matter how old you are, the time of year or where you live, focus on sun safety by protecting your eyes every time you go outside.
In Australia, whilst there is widespread awareness about the need to protect your skin from the harmful effects of Ultraviolet (UV) damage, the necessity of protecting your eyes from the sun is often overlooked. In much the same way that UV exposure damages your skin, it can cause a range of ocular and eyelid diseases. Due to our climate and outdoor lifestyle, Australia has some of the highest rates of UV associated disease, including eyelid and conjunctival cancers, cataracts, pingueculae, pterygium, and macular degeneration.
How the sun harms your eyes
Even though there are large numbers of people affected, relatively few people are aware of the importance of wearing sunglasses to protect the skin around your eyes because it cannot be protected by sunscreen. It is common to avoid the eye area when putting on sunscreen because products often indicate that they “should be kept out of the eyes” and this makes perfect sense because getting sunscreen in your eyes is not fun! However, many people then forget to put protective sunglasses on after applying sunscreen, leaving the sensitive skin around the eye exposed. Due to this, it is not surprising that periorbital skin cancers (basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and melanomas) account for 5-10% of all skin cancers.
Protecting the ocular part of your eyes is just as important as protecting the skin around your eyes. Pingueculae and pterygium are two common ocular conditions strongly associated with UV exposure and time spent outdoors without sufficient ocular protection. Pterygium is pink-coloured conjunctival tissue that grows from the white of your eye (sclera) onto the clear lens (cornea) and can disrupt and obscure your vision. Comparatively, pingueculae is UV damaged conjunctival tissue that grows close to the edge of the cornea on the sclera and leads to red eyes and irritation. Whilst these are both benign conditions, they can easily be avoided with adequate protection from excessive UV light.
Additionally, at least 10% of cataract cases can be attributed to UV exposure. Cataracts cloud and yellow the lens of your eye, causing a progressive loss of vision. UVA rays can also reach the back of the eye (the retina) and increase risk of macular degeneration; a condition causing an eventual loss of central vision. These are much more serious ocular conditions and point to the necessity of proactive ocular protection. If you are experiencing problems with your eyes or eyelids, book an appointment to see our optometrist!
When to protect your eyes from UV damage
You probably know that UV light is most harmful to the skin in the middle of the day, but UV light can reach the eyes in 3 different ways, at different times of the day:
- Like the skin, UV light can enter the eyes directly. This happens when the sun is lower in the sky and will not happen during the day as the eyes face forwards
- UV light can reach the eye by being reflected off surfaces in your environment like water, roads, or snow.
- Some UV light reaches the eye from overhead during the middle of the day, when the sun is high in the sky
Due to this, the eyes need protecting at all times of the day and in each season.
When to start protecting children’s eyes
It is important to protect children from UV radiation as early as possible as children’s eyes are most susceptible to UV damage due to a developmental lack of the ocular protection mechanisms present in the adult eye that block UV light. Children also receive up to three times the annual dose of UV radiation as adults because they spend more time outdoors. The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 80% of an individual’s exposure to damaging UV light occurs before the age of 18! As a result, the use of sunglasses should be thought of as a natural extension when protecting your child’s skin with sunscreen.
Not all sunglasses provide enough protection
What many people do not know is that not all sunglasses provide the same amount of protection, and some can even cause more damage than if you were not wearing them. Human’s have an innate squint reflex to protect their eyes in bright light by reducing the amount of light entering the eye. When wearing sunglasses, this reflex is turned off and the eyes are wide open because the bright light is reduced. However, when the lenses are mounted on a flat frame, light can enter the eye from above, below and around the sides of the frame, leading to less protection than if they were just squinting.
To combat this, opt for a frame with a wraparound design to protect unfiltered side and overhead light from entering the eye. Also, ask for an anti-reflective coating on the back of your lenses to prevent light reflected from the inner surface of the lens from bouncing back into your eye. Additionally, choosing a UV 400 lens material which will block 95% of UV between 190 and 400 nanometers, will provide optimal UVA and UVB protection!
How to protect your eyes from UV
By embracing some simple actions and incorporating them into your daily routine, you and your family can safely enjoy being outdoors while protecting the health of your eyes and the sensitive skin around them.
5 ways to be proactive about avoiding UV damage:
- Make UV eye protection part of your everyday routine, even on days when you feel the sun’s rays may be less harmful (they are not!).
- Choose a wraparound frame design.
- Ask for an anti-reflective coating on the back/inner side of your lenses.
- Opt for polarized lenses which reduce reflected light from surfaces.
- Book an appointment with your Optometrist to check your eye health.