In support of UV Safety Month in July, the Wisconsin Academy of Ophthalmology explains how to keep eyes safe from sun damage. Excess sun exposure can put people at risk of serious short- and long-term eye problems. If eyes are exposed to strong sunlight for too long without protection, UV rays can burn the cornea and cause temporary blindness in a matter of hours. Long-term sun exposure has also been linked to an increased risk of cataracts, cancer and growths on or near the eye.
Here are five things you can do to cut your risk of eye damage from the sun:
- Wear the right sunglasses. Look for those labeled “UV400” or “100 percent UV protection” when buying sunglasses. Less-costly sunglasses with this label can be just as effective as the expensive kind. Darkness or color doesn’t indicate strength of UV protection. UV rays can go through clouds, so wear sunglasses even on overcast days. And while contacts may offer some benefit, they cannot protect the entire eye area from burning rays.
- Don’t stare at the sun. Sun worshippers take note: directly gazing at the sun can burn holes in the retina, the light-sensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye needed for central vision. This condition is called solar retinopathy. While rare, the damage is irreversible.
- Check your medication labels. One in three adults uses medication that could make the eyes more vulnerable to UV ray damage. These include certain antibiotics, birth control, estrogen pills and psoriasis treatments containing psoralen. Check the labels on your prescriptions to see if they cause photosensitivity. If so, make sure to protect your skin and eyes or avoid sun exposure when possible.
- Put a lid on it. In addition to shades, consider wearing a hat with a broad brim. This has been shown to significantly cut exposure to harmful rays.
- Do not drive without UV eye protection. Do not assume car windows protect from UV light. A recent study found that side windows blocked only 71 percent of rays, compared to 96 percent in the windshield.Researchers found only 14 percent of side windows provide a high enough level of protection.