Wearing sunscreen is a no brainer—we’ve all seen the data on how UV exposure leads to pre-mature skin aging and, even worse, skin cancer, including deadly melanoma. But the UVA and UVB rays of the sun also pose risks to your eyes. Extended exposure can lead to short-term irritation, but also long-term damage.
“In the same way it’s important to protect our skin from UV damage, it’s also important to protect our eyes. Long-term exposure to UV can cause damage to the structures in our eyes,” said optometrist Stephen Cohen, OD, of Scottsdale, AZ. “It’s especially important to protect our eyes during the highest UV exposure hours (10am-2pm) and when the sun is lower in the sky, early in the morning and later in the afternoon.”
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), exposure to UV radiation over a short period of time can lead to “sunburn of the eye” called photokeratitis, which may be painful and include symptoms like red eyes, a gritty feeling, sensitivity to light, and excessive tearing, but is usually temporary and rarely causes permanent damage to the eyes.
However, long-term exposure can be much more dangerous and cause cataracts, damage to the retina, and macular degeneration, a condition that causes you to loose sharp, central vision. Since it’s not clear how much exposure to UV will cause permanent damage, the AOA recommends wearing UV blocking sunglasses and a hat with a wide brim whenever you spend time outdoors. Also, certain contact lenses can provide additional UV protection.
“For optimal protection, consider the triad of protection: A hat with a brim, UV blocking sunglasses that have a wrap or wider temples on the sides, and for contact lens wearers UV blocking contact lenses,” said Dr. Cohen.
ACUVUE® OASYS® from Johnson & Johnson offer the highest level of UV blocking in a contact lens, reported Dr. Cohen. In fact, ACUVUE OASYS has earned FDA Class 1 Blocker status, which means it blocks 90% of UVA rays and 99% of UVB. In addition to physically protecting your eyes and avoiding the sun during peak hours, Dr. Cohen offers the following tips for avoiding UV damage.
Sun Safety Fast Facts
- If your eyes feel tired, sore and gritty after a day at the beach, skiing or boating, you may have experienced UV radiation exposure.
- UV damage to the eyes is cumulative and irreversible.
- Although direct sunlight can be extremely damaging to eyes, reflected UV rays can be even more dangerous. For example, grass, soil, and water reflect less than 10% of the UV radiation, but fresh snow reflects as much as 80%, dry sand about 15%, and sea foam about 25%.
- Be mindful of cloudy days—you can get just as much UV exposure when it is cloudy, as you can on a bright, clear day.
- More is better when it comes to protecting your eyes from the sun, according to eye experts. If you’re planning to be out in the sun, protect your eyes with a combination of quality sunglasses, UV-blocking contact lenses, and a wide-brimmed hat.
- For contact lens wearers, ask your eye care professional about ACUVUE® Brand Contact Lenses, which is the only brand that provides UV-blocking benefits within every lens.
For more information about sun and your eyes, visit the ACUVUE website.