The Sun & Your Eyes: What You Need to Know

Most people know that exposure to the sun can damage their skin. But, did you know that extended exposure to the same harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that harm skin can also affect the health of your eyes and your vision? And, it can affect the appearance of your beautiful, vibrant looking eyes. In this, the first of several posts, I am going to tell you about the sun and your eyes, and what you need to know.

I live in Arizona, the sunniest state in the United States, and every day I advise my patients, particularly moms and dads, about the importance of protecting their eyes and the eyes of their children from the sun's rays.

Compared to their parents, kids have larger pupils (allowing more light into their eyes) and clearer lenses and are outside without eye protection much more frequently and for longer periods than most adults. Researchers estimate that a significant amount of lifetime exposure to UV rays may occur by age 18 and that children's annual dose of radiation may be up to three times that of adults.

With skin, when you are out in the sun too long, you see an instantaneous change in the form of sunburn. But unlike skin, short-term damage to the eyes is hard to notice. For some people, over the long-term, though, the sun can cause irreversible harm to parts of the eye and surrounding tissue that are left unprotected or under-protected. So, what happens to our kids today may not be evident until decades later. That's why it is important to get maximum protection beginning in childhood.

The sun also affects the appearance of our eyes as we get older. With skin, we can look in the mirror and see fine lines and wrinkles. Over time, subtle changes occur to the surface of our eyes as well. Instead of having that nice white, bright appearance, your eyes may get a little bit cloudier and duller looking. You may see more visible redness and blood vessels. Others may notice discolorations in which the white part of the eye looks a little bit yellowish or light brown. UV exposure may be a contributing factor to these age-related changes.

And then, of course, we have damages that can occur inside the eye. It's estimated that about one-third of all cataracts that develop are due to long-term UV exposure.

OK, so now you know a little bit about the dangers of UV exposure to the eyes. In my next few posts, we'll talk about steps you can take to protect them.

Dr. Stephen Cohen is a paid adviser for VISTAKON® Division Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.
This content was developed with the support of VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.

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