Do you know what the sun can do to your eyes?

Medical evidence shows that the UV radiation contained in the sun’s rays can damage your eyes in a number of ways, from causing “sunburn” to the front surface through to cancer and cataracts. The effects of excessive radiation to UV radiation usually build up gradually and painless, yet can seriously reduce vision.

Clearly, it’s important to keep your eyes safe in the sun.

sun shine in blue sky

Sunburn of the eyes?

Most of the UV radiation that reaches the eye is absorbed by the front surface of the eye (the cornea). If in high UV levels (e.g. At the snow or on the beach), excess UV exposure can create a “sunburn” of the eyes. This is extremely painful and makes you very light sensitive, although the condition usual heals in two to three days. It is advisable to have your eyes examined by an optometrist or eye surgeon to ensure no other damage has occurred.

Lumps and bumps?

Long term exposure to UV radiation can stimulate the growth of fleshy bumps on the white of the eye, known as pterygia. These are most common in people who have a history of working outdoors, such as gardeners. Surgical removal is the only treatment for these, and in some people, they grow back even after surgery.

Foggy vision?

Exposure to excessive UV radiation has been linked to the development of cataract, a clouding of the lens in the eye. Typically, the lens becomes progressively foggier, and the vision becomes cloudier as this occurs. Cataracts cannot be treated with eye drops – the foggy lens has to be surgically removed and replaced with a clear, artificial one.

And there’s MORE?

It is believed that long term exposure to UV radiation may also damage the back surface of the eye (the retina), which contains the nerves we need to see. Most damage to the retina cannot be repaired, by surgery, drops or other means.

What about the kids?

As kids tend to spend more time outdoors, they are more prone to excessive sun exposure. Protect kids eyes by insisting they wear a hat and good sunglasses when they are outdoors, particularly in the height of Summer.

So, how do I keep my eyes “Safe in the Sun”?

There are three main ways of doing this:

  1. Stay out of the sun in the middle of the day, particularly between 10am and 4pm when the UV levels in the sun’s ray are at their highest.
  2. Wear sunglasses: sunglasses will cut down the UV rays reaching your eyes
  3. Wear a hat: A hat with a broad brim blocks out the rays which might sneak around the edges of you sunglasses lenses.

How do I choose sunglasses?

Sunglasses sold in Australia must meet Standards which state how much UV they block. AS1067 General Purpose sunglasses are designed for wear in regular levels of UV. If you are exposed to high level UV (e.g. snow skiing or flying), AS1067 Specific purpose sunglasses will be more appropriate. When choosing sunglasses for children, ensure that the glasses you purchase are not toy sunglasses, which do not satisfy the Australian Standards.

Sunglasses and hat on sand

Who can give me advice?

Your optometrist has access to technical information on sunglasses and can provide advice on the most appropriate sunglass lenses and frames for you.

Contact: Optometrists Association Australia (Vic. Div.) Inc.

Phone 03 9416 2588

Of course, it isn’t just your eyes that can suffer from too much sun. If you’d like further information on how to be sun smart and to protect yourself from other aspects of possible sun damage, you can read more here.