Summertime always brings to mind long days of fun in the sun. Whether it’s time on the water at the cottage or kids playing at the park, without realizing it, the summer is also a time where we are exposing our eyes to danger every day, simply by going outdoors.
While most Canadians recognize the importance of sunscreen to prevent sunburns and skin cancer, many are unaware of the serious eye damage that can be caused by UV rays. Overexposure to UV light has been linked to the development of cataracts (cloudiness of the lens), macular degeneration (scarring of the central retinae), eyelid skin cancer, corneal burns (photokeratitis), and tissue growths on the surface of the eye (pingueculae/pterygia).
Sunlight is made up of three types of UV rays: UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer and therefore, not vision-threatening; UVA & UVB rays, on the other hand, can have adverse short- and long-term effects on the eyes. If your eyes are exposed to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short amount of time (ie. not wearing sunglasses while boating, welding without eye protection), you may experience photokeratitis: an acute sunburn of the eyes. This condition can be painful and cause symptoms such as red eyes, a sandy, gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme light sensitivity and tearing.
Research tells us that longterm exposure to UV light has a cumulative, damaging effect on our eyes and can be linked to irreversible vision loss. Harmful UV rays increase the likelihood of developing cataracts (a clouding of the natural lens of the eye) and macular degeneration (a debilitating blinding eye disease). There is also an increased risk of skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma on the eyelid accounts for up to 10% of all skin cancers. Most periocular skin cancer occurs on the lower eyelid, which receives the most sun exposure.
To adequately protect your eyes and the sensitive skin around them, follow these simple strategies:
· Wear sunglasses that block 100% of both UVA/UVB rays, that are close-fitting with a wrap-around style frame to help keep light out.
· Avoid sources of UV radiation: Don’t stare directly into the sun and be aware of amplified UV reflections from water, sand, snow and pavement. If your occupation has UV hazards (ie. welder, outdoor worker), talk to your Optometrist about potential risks and how to avoid exposure.
· Stay informed: Get regular eye examinations to monitor eye health, maintain good vision and keep up-to-date with the latest in UV protection. Your Optometrist can help fit you in a perfect pair of sunglasses that fits your specific lifestyle.
· Children are at high risk: It is estimated that 50-80% of lifetime exposure to UV light happens under the age of 18. This is because youth spend more time outdoors, have larger pupils, clearer lenses, and few wear sun protection.
· Recognize the symptoms. If you are experiencing red eyes or pain after exposure to UV light, see your Doctor of Optometry right away.
10 common MYTHS associated with sunglasses:
1. Sunglasses are just for looks. Sure, who doesn’t want to look trendy in a pair of sunnies? The most important factor, however, is buying sunglasses that adequately protect your eyes from sun damage.
2. You only need to wear sunglasses on sunny days. More than 90% of UV rays penetrate through clouds. Even in overcast weather, the eyes are still exposed to UV radiation. Reflections off surfaces such as water, snow, sand, pavement and glass amplify the effect of UV rays.
3. Sunglasses are only for grown-ups. A significant portion of UV damage happens to our eyes before the age of 18. Teach your children from a young age to wear sunglasses and hats outdoors.
4. All sunglasses offer 100% UV protection. Check the label on sunglasses before you purchase. Not all sunglasses offer full protection against UVA and UVB rays. Many inexpensive sunglasses have insufficient protection, can scratch easily, and may have imperfections in the lens that cause distortion.
5. Darker tints mean better protection. Darker lenses do not always mean better UV protection; in fact, darker tints without UV protection can actually harm your eyes because darker lenses dilate your pupils and allow more light to enter your eyes. Speak with your Optometrist to pick the best tint for your needs.
6. “High-end” sunglasses are not worth the money. A high quality pair of sunglasses goes through rigorous testing and is often accompanied by a warranty.
7. The size and style of the lens doesn’t matter. Smaller lenses provide less UV protection than larger lenses for both the eyes and the delicate skin around the eyes. The best type of lens wraps around the eyes to protect from the side, as well as the front of the eyes.
8. Labels on sunglasses are always accurate. Sometimes sunglasses are mislabeled or not labeled at all. Always purchase from a reputable manufacturer to ensure you are receiving a quality product.
9. Our eyes are the most exposed to UV radiation between 10 am and 2pm. Unlike our skin, our eyes are most exposed to UV radiation in the early morning and late afternoon.
10. In Canada, UV exposure is highest in the summer. In fact, regardless of the season, total eye exposure is the same throughout the year. Sunglasses should be worn daily by both kids and adults.
Barrhaven Optometric Centre can make specific recommendations to ensure your eyes are well-protected from UV radiation’s harmful effects.
Book a comprehensive eye examination today!