Tips to Protect Your Eyes During the Summer
Summer is a time when people tend to spend more time outdoors enjoying the sun, and let’s be honest, most of us can’t get enough of that summer sun. It gives us that bronze glow, makes our hair lighter, and the days longer. While many people are taking the precaution of protecting their skin with sunblock, they may not realize their vision can also be at risk of damage. Without proper eyewear, the eyes are exposed to the same harmful UV rays that cause sunburn which can damage the sensitive parts of the eyes and cause serious harm.
Did you know sea foam reflects about 25% of UV radiation and dry sand reflects about 15%? Grass, soil and water even reflect UV rays!
What do UV rays do to your eyes?
Exposing your eyes to too much sun can lead to a number of eye health issues including:
- Cataracts – cloudiness on the clear lens of the eye that causes things to look blurry, hazy, and less colorful. Whenever the light is bright enough to make you squint, even on cloudy days and at high elevations, it is highly recommended that you wear sunglasses.
- Cancer – ocular melanoma develops in the cells in or around the eye.
- Macular Degeneration – believed to be caused by cumulative UV damage to the retina. The macula, which is the region of sharpest vision near the center of the retina, is most susceptible to damage. Macular degeneration is one of the major causes of vision loss in the United States for people over the age of 60.
- Pterygium – also known as surfer’s eye; spots, bumps, or fleshy tissue that form on the clear covering over the white part of the eye, can sometimes affect the vision.
- Pingueculae – yellowish or chalky colored growth on the conjunctiva, often forming in the corner of the eye near the nose. Could potentially turn into pterygium.
- Photokeratitis – temporary sun blindness that can happen when a person’s eyes are exposed to high amounts of UV rays for just a few hours and become sunburned. Though rather painful, this condition will usually go away on its own, rarely causing permanent damage. Symptoms include a gritty feeling in the eyes, excessive blinking and watering, difficulty looking at bright lights, swelling of the eyes, and blurred vision.
It can take many years for certain eye diseases to develop, but each time you are out in the sun without proper protection, you risk causing damage to your eye that can lead to such issues.
Who’s at risk for eye damage from the sun?
Your eyes can suffer sun damage whenever you’re outside, no matter the time of year. The fairer your skin, the lighter your eyes, and the older you are, the higher your risk for developing eye damage. If you spend a lot of time outdoors for work or leisure (surfers, people who fish, farmers, etc.), your risk is even greater. If you’ve had cataract surgery, you may be at more of a risk unless the artificial lens you received during surgery absorbs UV rays. If you think you’re safe because it’s cloudy and hazy outside, think again. Eye damage is still possible!
The bottom line – we’re ALL at risk. Eye protection during the summer months is essential to preserve and protect your vision. Despite your age, everyone should follow a few easy-to-remember guidelines for healthy eyes.
Factors that Impact Your Eye Sun Damage Risk
- Altitude – High-altitude residents are at a greater risk of eye damage from sun exposure, as UV radiation is more intense in high-altitude areas.
- Geographical Location – UV rays are stronger the closer you are to the equator.
- Wide, Open Spaces – large, exposed areas such as white sand or large bodies of water reflect back UV rays, doubling your exposure to UV rays.
- Time of Day – UV is greatest during the hours of 10am-2pm.
- Medications – certain medications increase sensitivity to sunlight.
Signs Your Eyes May Be Sunburnt
Are you waking up after a day out in the sun with your eyes feeling or looking a little out of the norm? You may be suffering from sun burnt eyes if you have these symptoms:
- Red eyes
- Blurred vision
- Gritty eye pain
- Burning sensation
- Swollen eyes and/or lids
- Watery eyes
- Sensitivity to light
How To Protect Your Eyes During The Summer
Keep an Eye on the Weather
Ah, summertime! The season that’s filled with vacations and summer activities. While it’s arguably the best time of the year, summer comes with lots of sun. UV can be such a serious risk during the summer that the EPA and the National Weather Service publish a daily UV index map that can help you learn the risk of harmful UV exposure in your local area. Make sure you stay informed about what conditions are going to be like, especially if you are going on a long drive or will be involved in any activity that keeps you outdoors for long periods.
Avoid peak hours. UV Rays are strongest between 10:00AM and 2:00PM. It is recommended that you stay in shaded areas during this peak time to prevent sunburn and damage to the eyes. If you must be outside during this time, seek shaded under a tree, shelter, or use an umbrella to protect your eyes from strong UV rays. Don’t let the clouds fool you. Even on a cloudy overcast day, UV rays can be just as strong!
Sunglasses Are More Than a Fashion Accessory
If you participate in many outdoor activities, your eye doctor may recommend the purchase of a pair of sunglasses or other form of protective eyewear as part of your vision check. These glasses do much more than tone down the glare of visual light; they can also help to block the harmful UV rays that can contribute to everything from the development of cataracts to the onset of macular degeneration.
The best sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays are marked as “100% UV Protection.” You will also want to look for sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection, only some offer both types of protection. The best type of sunglasses should also wrap around your eyes provide better protection in all directions. To eliminate glare, consider polarized glasses. If you typically wear eyeglasses, purchasing a pair of prescription sunglasses is a great idea.
Keep color in mind when choosing a suitable pair of sunglasses. The best colors include:
- Grey lenses; provide good protection against glare, do not alter primary colors which makes them great for driving
- Green lenses; allows the maximum amount of useful light reach the eyes on an overcast day
- Brown lenses; sharpen detail and provide better protection against glare
Wear a Hat
You might think that just wearing sunglasses every time you walk outside is protecting you, but it’s not. Your eyes and eyelids are not receiving complete UVR protection. In addition to sunglasses, a wide brimmed hat, at least 3 inches wide, a baseball cap, or even a visor can provide extra shade, acting as a second defense against harmful UV rays.
Wear Goggles at the Pool
Swimming is the best way to cool off in the summer, and is a great exercise. However, if you’ve ever gotten chlorine in your eyes, you know it’s a terrible feeling. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it’s also awful for your eyes. Studies have shown that frequent exposure to chlorine negatively affects the integrity of your corneal epithelium, which can lead to increased eye injuries.
Be Mindful of Sand
How could a day at the beach not be relaxing? If sand makes its way into your eye, the day may not be as pleasant! If sand ends up in the eye, it can scratch the surface and potentially lead to a corneal abrasion. Often this minor issue results in only discomfort and redness. However, it can turn into something more serious if fungus and bacteria appears. Wraparound sunglasses can keep your eyes free of sand.
Pay Attention to Current Medications
Certain medications can put you at a higher risk for sensitivity to UV rays. These medications include Tetracycline, Sulpha Drugs, Birth Control Pills, and Diuretics.
Feed Your Eyes
Fend of summer stresses by keeping your kitchen stocked with the right foods. When you incorporate certain vitamins and minerals to your diet, you boost your vision and eye health to prevent sun damage. Appropriate foods would include ones that are high in vitamin C and E, minerals such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega fatty acids. These are just a few examples of the types of food you should add into your diet:
- Carrots (Vitamin A)
- Leafy Greens (lutein and zeaxanthin)
- Eggs, mainly yolks (lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc)
- Berries (Vitamin C)
- Almonds (Vitamin E)
- Fatty Fish (omega fatty acids)
Dehydration is a common concern during the summertime, so hydration is key! Serious dehydration makes it more difficult for the body to produce tears, leading to dry eye symptoms and other vision problems. Drinking plenty of water helps replenish fluids in our body as well as our eyes.
Children’s eyes are especially important to protect against the sun
Children’s eyes can receive up to 80% of their lifetime UV exposure by the age of 18. Kids are at risk for developing severe vision damage later in life without the proper use of regular UV eye protection. Unlike an adult eye, a child’s eye cannot effectively filter out UV rays which means even more radiation reaches their retina.
In addition to sunglasses, a hat will also shield the child from harmful UV rays. Select a hat that will shade the head, face, eyes, ears and neck. Baseball caps are not suggested, as they do not offer enough protection; bucket or wide-brimmed hats are ideal.
- Babies – choose a soft fabric that will scrunch easily when they put their head down.
- Younger children – choose a hat size that is proportional to the size of the child’s head and provides shade across the face and neck areas.
- Older children – a bucket hat should have a deep crown and angled brim that is at least 6cm. A wide brimmed hat should have a brim that is at least 7.5cm.
It can be challenging to keep a hat on a baby or toddler, as they’re usually not fans of headwear. Reinforce wearing a hat every time they go outdoors. By doing so, you will help them to connect that with an outside routine. Adults can be great role models by wearing a hat each time they are outside in the sun with the child as well. After all, monkey see monkey do, right?
Summer Tips for Contact Wearers
- Wear Sunglasses – Aside from the obvious reason of protecting your eyes from the harmful UV sun rays, sunglasses will also help protect your contact lenses from the sun. The UV rays are prone to drying out your contacts and even causing them to harden as they dry.
- Get Contacts with UV Protection – Just like sunglasses with UV protection, these types of contacts will help protect your eyes from UV rays. Combined with a great pair of sunglasses, you will be protecting both your eyes and contacts with twice the UV defense!
- Avoid Wearing Contacts in Pool or Lake Water – Pool water is saltier than your tears, which will cause the pool water to dry out your contact lenses. It is best to take them out before going swimming if you can see well enough without them or, wear goggles over them. If you’re unable to wear goggles but must have your contacts in, daily use contacts would be ideal; you can throw them away after you’re done swimming. Because lake water presents a bacteria issues, single-use contacts or prescription goggles are ideal.
- Daily Contacts – Since you throw them away after one day, using daily contacts in the summer are a great option as they will always be moist. This is especially ideal if you’re in dry climates during the summer.
- Keep Eye Drops Handy – Should your contacts dry out on you, lubricate them with contact lens drops to avoid discomfort. Keep a travel size tube in your bag or nearby in case of emergency.
- Give Your Eyes a Break – If you also own a pair of glasses, wear them a day or two each week to allow your eyes to breathe. Your eyes will thank you!
Is sun damage reversible?
The redness and discomfort faced during the minor stages is reversible. However, the yellowish deposit is irreversible and can actually worsen as the years go on, resulting in scarring or even cancer. The deposit is normally treated with artificial tears and sunglasses while being observed over time to avoid further growth. The most common long-term side effect of sun damage is cataracts, often appearing between the ages of 40 and 50.
Types of eye cancers due to life-long exposure to the sun
- Basal Cell carcinomas
- The most common type of eyelid cancer with most cases being removed with surgery. Basal cell carcinomas are frequently found on the lower eyelids. The most common symptom of this sun-related cancer is a reddish nodule that slowly forms on the eyelid. If eyelash loss occurs around the tumor, that is usually an indicator of a malignant tumor.
- Squamous cell carcinomas
- Squamous cell carcinomas are at least twice as common in men as in women; partially because of how much more time is spent in the sun. People whose occupation or hobbies require them to be outdoors and in the sun for long periods are in jeopardy of developing this cancer. Those with lighter features – fair skin, blond or red hair, or blue, green or gray eyes are at an increased risk for squamous cell carcinoma. Anyone who has had basal cell carcinoma is also more susceptible to developing SCC.
- Thick, rough, scaly patches (chance of bleeding) with irregular borders that often look like warts are going to be your main symptoms. When identified and removed at an early stage, minimal damage will occur. If left untreated, the SCCs may spread and become more of a larger issue requiring a combination of treatments, surgery, etc.
- Malignant melanoma
Malignant melanoma of the eye is a rare condition that can follow after the eye has been exposed to too much UV or sunlight. Although rare, it is the most frequent type of eye cancer in adults. The most common layer impacted by malignant melanoma is the choroid layer, where the blood vessels are stowed.
- Other areas of the eye can also be affected:
- ciliary body (helps lubricate your eye and contains muscles that help the eye focus)
- conjunctiva (a thin, transparent tissue that covers the inside of your eyelid, sclera or the white of your eye)
- iris (the colored part of your eye that helps to control how much light is let in)
- orbit (the cavity in your skull that contains the eye)
Because many will not show any symptoms of malignant melanoma, it is often found during a routine eye exam. For those who cultivate symptoms, they may include – bulging eyes, changes in the color of your iris, vision changes, red, swollen eyes with pain, and small visible defects on your iris or conjunctiva. If the tumor is small and not growing, treatment may not be suggested. On the other hand if your tumor is large with potential to spread to other organs, a more aggressive treatment may need done.
Vision Checks are the Key to Safety
Regular vision checks are an essential part of protecting your eyesight and catching early warning signs of sun damage and other problems that may risk harming your vision. Our team of eye doctors and optometrists are trained to not only check your prescription but perform an in-depth medical analysis of your vision and eyes to ensure that you are not only seeing clearly but healthily too.
Caring for the eyes, especially during summer, is critical. Harmful UV rays are everywhere so the eyes are always at jeopardy. Following these simple tips will make outdoor time more pleasant and safe for the eyes.
If you notice your eyes hurting after a day in the sun or any other abnormalities in your vision it is extremely important that you receive a full, medical vision test as soon as possible. Many conditions caused by sun damage are easily treatable if caught early and our team has the latest diagnostic and medical equipment available to make the process easier than ever.
If you have any questions about your vision or if you would like to schedule a Vision Test with our expert team contact us today at 302-993-0722.
Eye Health FAQ’s
- What is the difference between UVA and UVB radiation and what are their negative effects on eyes and our vision?
- There are many different types of rays in sunlight. UV can be the most damaging to the body. Of the UV radiation that reaches the earth’s surface, more than 95% is UVA and the remainder is UVB. UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer. UVB rays can burn the superficial layers of the skin and play a role in the development of skin cancer. Extended exposure to UV can increase your risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts, and developing cataracts at an earlier age. If your eyes are exposed to excessive amounts of UV light in a short period, you may experience photokeratitis, or a sunburn of the eye.
- Can my eyes get sunburnt?
- Yes, this is referred to as photokeratitis. Severe eye pain and an abrupt onset of symptoms may lead to urgent medical visits. Even though this condition will not result in permanent blindness, it is best to be evaluated and treated by an eye doctor.
- Do I need to wear sunglasses on a cloudy day?
- Even when it is cloudy, UV light is still present in the atmosphere; therefore, sunglasses are advisable to protect your eyes. There is UV light on cloudy days and during all seasons of the year. In order for sunglasses to be adequate, they should block out 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB radiation.
- Can my eyes become dehydrated?
- Water is a critical element of the body and is needs for various organs to function, including the eyes. Drinking lots of water can prevent both your body and eyes from becoming dehydrated, eyestrain and dry eye. Your eyes need plenty of fluid to keep them hydrated. Dehydration makes it difficult for your eyes to produce the tears they need to stay properly lubricated and dry eye, eyestrain, and vision problems can develop.
- Can long-term exposure to the sun damage your eyes?
- Definitely. The most common eye problems related to sun exposure are cataracts and macular degeneration. Though cataracts can be removed with surgery, macular degeneration is permanent and often quite devastating. Not to mention, the skin around the eye is vulnerable to skin cancer, so it is highly suggested to wear sun protection whenever possible! NEVER look directly at the sun, even sun gazing can cause permanent vision damage.
- Why is it important to wear goggles in the pool?
- Not only do goggles allow you to see better underwater, they also protect the eyes from chlorine and other irritating chemicals in the water. If you wear contact lenses, dispose of the lenses after swimming activities, they may harbor bacteria that will increase your risk for severe eye infections.
- Do contact lenses provide protection against UV rays?
- Yes, there are several brands of contact lenses that are built with UV protections. However, it is important to remember that contact lenses only cover the center of the eye and not surrounding areas such as the conjunctiva or eyelids. Dependent upon your location, wearing contact lenses for too long while outdoors may irritate your eyes more than usual, especially in dry, hot or windy areas.
- How often should I get my eyes checked?
A comprehensive eye exam is recommended every 1-2 years, depending on your age, risk factors, and whether you are currently wear corrective lenses. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a baseline eye exam at age 40. If you have diabetes, a yearly-dilated eye exam is recommended to screen for problems related to diabetes in the eyes. If you are 65 or older, make sure you have your eyes checked every year for signs of diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.