Sunscreen is often the first thing people reach for in the summer when they go outside to enjoy the longer, warmer days. But when safeguarding against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, outdoor enthusiasts shouldn’t overlook another important area: their eyes.
In support of UV Safety Month in July, the UCLA Stein Eye and Doheny Eye Institutes join the American Academy of Ophthalmology in sharing recommendations on how to keep eyes safe from sun damage. Excess sun exposure can cause serious short-term and long-term eye problems. Being in the sun too long without protection can burn the cornea and cause temporary blindness. Long-term sun exposure also can increase the risk of cataracts, cancer and growths near or on the eye.
Here are five things you can do to reduce the risk of eye damage from the sun:
- Wear protective sunglasses. Only purchase sunglasses that say they provide 99 to 100 percent of UV protection. Sunglasses with this label can be just as effective — and affordable — as ones that are more expensive. The shade or darkness of sunglass doesn’t indicate the strength of UV protection. UV rays also can go through clouds, so wear sunglasses even on overcast days. And while contacts may offer some benefit, they can’t protect the entire eye area from UV rays.
- Never stare at the sun. Sun lovers take note: directly staring 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.
- Put a lid on it. Experts also recommend wearing brimmed hats that cover your ears. These hats have been shown to significantly reduce exposure to harmful UV rays and give your eyes a little extra cover.
- Read medication labels carefully. One in three adults takes medication that could make the eyes more vulnerable to UV rays, according to a survey by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. These include certain antibiotics, birth control and estrogen pills as well as psoriasis treatments containing psoralen. Check the labels on your prescriptions to see if they cause photosensitivity. If so, it’s especially important to protect your skin and eyes or avoid sun exposure when possible.
- Drive with UV eye protection. Car windows, even those that are tinted, are never fully protecting you from UV rays. A recent study in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology found that side windows blocked only 71 percent of rays, compared to 96 percent in the windshield. Only 14 percent of side windows provided a high enough level of protection, the researchers found. So when you buckle up, make sure you are wearing glasses or sunglasses with the right UV protection.
If you want to learn more about how to protect your eyes, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology or uclahealth.org/eye.
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