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Sun shining

How sun rays affect your eye health

We all know that the sun’s rays are harmful and can damage our skin. However, there is not only potential damage to our skin, but also to our eyes.

Exposure to UV radiation from natural sunlight (as well as artificial sources) has been shown to be closely linked to a wide range of eye conditions. This includes cataracts, macular degeneration and skin cancer around the eye.

Sun rays

What are UV rays?

Ultraviolet radiation is a type of light that is invisible to the human eye, and part of the spectrum that reaches us from the sun. UV wavelengths are divided into three types: UVA, UVB and UVC. 

Most UVC from the sun’s rays is absorbed into the ozone layer, preventing it from reaching us on earth. UVA and UVB are both able to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere fully, with UVA making up around 95% of the total rays.

Excessive exposure to UV rays can result in the front surface of the eye becoming damaged, much like sunburn on the skin. Without proper precautions, these rays can also have harmful cumulative effects that may develop over time.

Too much exposure to UV rays may result in one or more of the following eye conditions:

  • Cataract: The lens inside the eye can become clouded, seriously obstructing normal vision.
  • Skin cancer around the eyelids: Skin cancer around the eye most commonly develops in the form of lesions around the lower eyelid, but it can also appear on the upper eyelid or the corner of the eye.
  • Pterygium: A non-cancerous growth may develop in the corner of the eye, possibly obstructing the cornea and obstructing vision.
  • Photokeratitis: Highly painful (but usually temporary) burn to the cornea. Most commonly associated with not wearing sunglasses in locations with a lot of reflected sunlight such as the beach or in snowy regions.

Woman wearing sunglasses

Choosing sunglasses

There are several precautions you can take in order to keep your eyes safe in the sun. The easiest way is to wear sunglasses when outdoors. When choosing your sunglasses, consider the following for eye safety:

  • UV-blocking lenses: Always choose lenses that block 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB light. Also, check whether they block HEV light.
  • Wraparound styles: Large, closely-fitting frames are ideal for protection from the sun. Larger lenses also help to block more of the sunlight.
  • Polarised lenses: Polarised lenses help to reduce glare, which can help prevent light-related headaches or migraines. 
  • Durability: It’s usually worth spending a little extra on sunglasses with solid build quality. Broken sunglasses won’t do the best job of protecting your eyes!

Sun safety

Beyond sunglasses, there are a few other things to keep in mind when protecting your eyes from the sun:

  • Hats: If you’re going outside when it’s sunny, it’s a good idea to wear a broad-rimmed hat, which helps to protect you from the sun. 
  • Don’t look into the sun: Never look directly at the sun, even if it doesn’t seem to be causing harm to your eyes at the time. It can be tempting to look during a solar eclipse, for example, but it can cause permanent damage to your eye’s retina.
  • No protection from clouds: A cloudy day doesn’t mean there is no danger to your eyes. The sun’s UV rays can pass through haze and thin clouds.