How to Protect Your Eyes From the Sun

The Dangers
Many people know of the dangers that the sun poses to their skin and the risks of developing skin cancer as a result. What many people don’t consider is the danger posed to their eyes. Even skiers are prone to eye damage from the sun reflecting off the surface of the sun.

If we consider the three kinds of UV radiation:

UV-A and UV-B are the ones that pose a risk to the eyes – even over a relatively short exposure time. The effect is known as photokeratitis and its effects can be devastating.

UV-C is generally absorbed by the ozone layer that surrounds our planet and therefore it poses little risk. Long term exposure over a number of years significantly increases the chances of developing cataracts and also can damage the retina to the point of causing permanent blindness. The longer the exposure then the greater the risk.

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Excessive exposure to the sun can also contribute to macular degeneration, which is a major source of vision loss for people over the age of 60. Premature wrinkling and ageing around the eyes can also make you look far older than your actual years.

Risk Factors
There are a number of factors which have an effect on eye health;

Geographical location
The nearer to the equator you are, the greater the risk. If you are also in a wide open space such as a snow covered mountain or a sun drenched beach then the risk rises again. Don’t be fooled by the fact that there is a lot of cloud since both UV-A and UV-B radiation can penetrate the cloud without any problem. In the United States UV radiation is measured using the UV Index. Here you can see the worst places to live and play with the highest UV index.

Altitude
The higher the altitude the greater the risk.

Time of day
The worst time is when the sun is at its highest, typically between 10.00 and 14.00.

Medications
Some medicines increase the sensitivity of the body to UV radiation. These include birth control pills, diuretics, tranquillisers and sulfa drugs.

How to Reduce the Risk
The American Optometrist Association (AOP) recommends good quality sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat to limit exposure and damage to the eyes caused by direct sunlight. Low quality sunglasses are practically useless since they fail to block enough UV-A and UV-B radiation. AOP also recommend getting your eyes checked by an optometrist at least every two years.

The best sunglasses will have a marking stating they meet a minimum standard such as:

  • The U.S. standard ANSI Z80.3-2001, which includes three transmittance categories.
  • The European standard EN 1836:2005, which has four transmittance categories.
  • The Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003, which has five transmittance categories.

It’s also best to ensure that your sunglasses have wraparound arms so that they protect the side of the eyes.
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