Why Protect your Eyes?
The Australian summer is hard to compete with. Our warm weather, pristine beaches and outdoor lifestyle means we spend a lot of time soaking up rays and enjoying the sunshine. We are lucky, to say the least, but what comes with that lifestyle is high levels of UV exposure which can put not just your skin, but your eyes at risk.
We all know the slip, slop, slap message, but what many Aussies still fail to consider when planning a day in the sun is the protection of their eyes, one of our most important perceptual organs.
Even though they take up a mere 2% of our entire body surface area, our eyes need special care and protection to ensure they remain healthy in the face of extreme or long-term UV exposure.
Effects of UV exposure on eye health
While your body has developed natural defences against UV and bright light exposure, (our brow ridge/eyebrows, constriction of our pupils and squinting, to name a few) cloudy days, sunbeds and ground reflection can easily get past these defences and cause potential short and long term visual damage.
Here are some things that can happen to your eyes as a result of high UV exposure:
Photokeratitis or sunburn to the eye
Photokeratitis affects the thin surface layer of your cornea (‘window of the eye’) and conjunctiva (cell layer covering the whites of your eye). The source of UV light may be from the sun being reflected off sand, water or snow. Alternatively, it may be man-made, for example, an arc welder or tanning bed. It can be very painful and, like sunburn, isn’t always noticeable until after the damage has been done. Symptoms of photokeratitis include pain, twitching, blurriness, redness, light sensitivity, and headaches.
The World Health Organisation estimates that as many as 20% of cataracts are caused by over-exposure to UV radiation. That means at least one in five cataracts are avoidable! Find out more about cataracts here.
This condition has also been linked to UV exposure, particularly the dose received in childhood, and often requires surgery to remove. Read more about pterygiums here.
In some cases, cancer of the eyelids can form, like basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Similarly, you can even get cancer on the surface of the eye, also known as ocular surface squamous neoplasia. These may take years to develop, however, each time your eyes are exposed to UV rays you may be increasing your risk. And yes, believe it or not, you can even develop a melanoma on your eye!
Top tips to protect your eyes this summer
Summer is a great time of year to get out, get active and soak up some Vitamin D. However as you remember to cover up and wear sunscreen to protect your skin, you should do the same for your eyes.
- Wear quality sunglasses. Not only are they a great fashion accessory, but they are also the most effective form of UV protection for your eyes. A good pair of sunglasses can block out up to 100% of UV radiation, and screen out up to 90% of visible light
- Remember that cloudy days are just as risky as sunny days
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and/or wrap-around sunglasses to give you added protection. Particularly if your job requires you to be in the sun for long periods of time
- Never look directly into the sun, even during a solar eclipse. This can cause damage to your eye’s retina, otherwise known as solar retinopathy
- As always, make sure you schedule regular check-ups with your eye health professional. Particularly if you notice a change in your vision or the appearance of a lump, either on your eyelids or the surface of your eye.