When we think of spending time outside in the sunshine, we often associate it with feeling good and getting a healthy dose of Vitamin D. However, what many people don't realize is that our eyes are also at risk when exposed to too much sunlight. In fact, excessive exposure to UV rays can lead to serious eye conditions, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Our highly experienced team atEverett & Hurite, providing routine eye care and diagnosing all developing issues within your eyes since 1974,  wants to help you understand why sunshine and our eyes don't mix and what steps you can take to protect your vision.

Sun Exposure & Our Vision: A Bad Combination

Being outdoors during daylight hours exposes us all to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. You've likely heard UV radiation—or UV rays—mentioned before, as they are a major risk factor for most skin cancers. Sunlight, tanning beds, and lamps are all major sources of UV rays. The problem is that UV rays damage skin cells and eye cells alike. So, in addition to wearing sunblock on a regular basis, we must also take action to protect our eyes from UV rays.

 Ideally, we will protect our eyes from UV rays year-round. That's because our eyes, like our skin, are put at an increased risk of developing problems every time we expose them to UV rays. And those rays don't disappear during the fall and winter months - we just don't think about them as often! However, it's especially important to take action to protect ourselves during the warmer months of the year, when we begin to spend longer periods of time outside.

By the way, don't think you're safe from those rays even though you live in Pittsburgh! The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that up to 80% of the sun's UV rays can pass through clouds, meaning that even on a gray and overcast day, UV exposure will affect our eyes and vision.

UV Rays' Impact on Vision and Eye Health

Long-term or overexposure to UV light can increase your risk of developing several different eye diseases, including cataracts, macular degeneration, growths on the eye, and even cancer. And unfortunately, damage from UV exposure is cumulative, just as it is in our skin cells. That means long periods of time spent outside in your 20s will likely be involved in the development of any later vision problems.

 Fortunately, simply investing in the proper protective accessories is all it takes to reduce your eyes' exposure to UV rays. Current recommendations, as laid out by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, are to simply wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses (with guaranteed UV protection) whenever you spend any period outdoors. 

It's also important to wear sunglasses if you're around water, snow, or sand during your spring and summer travels. UV light can reflect off of these surfaces, so a hat alone will not protect your eyes from the rays that bounce off of the ground.

The Right Shades For The Job 

Even if you already own a pair of sunglasses, it's important to double-check that they're the right kind before you head outdoors. Much like sunscreen, not all sunglasses block UV lights as effectively as others. Not to worry, though—effective sunglasses are fairly easy to purchase these days.

 To ensure that your sunglasses protect your eyes, always read the label that comes with them to see what they do—and don't—do. Aim to buy a pair that protects your eyes from both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B (UVA and UVB) radiation. If you cannot find these things listed on the label attached to a pair of sunglasses, you'll want to find a different pair that does.

Always read the labels on sunglasses and never assume that darker sunglasses will protect your eyes. Lens colors do not affect UV protection. Darker sunglasses that aren't made with proper UV-blocking materials are actually worse for your eyes. Their darker tints increase the dilation of your eyes, increasing the UV exposure your eyes receive!

So be sure to check the label and make sure your sunglasses are protecting your eyes from harmful UV rays.

The Importance of Routine Eye Exams

While taking preventative measures such as wearing hats and sunglasses is important, it's also crucial to schedule regular eye exams with a qualified optometrist or ophthalmologist. During your eye exam, your eye doctor atEverett & Hurite can detect any early signs of eye problems and provide you with the necessary treatment to prevent further damage. They can also evaluate the level of UV protection in your current eyeglasses or contact lenses and make recommendations for products that will better shield your eyes from harmful rays.

Have Fun in the Sun - Safely!

While the idea of sunlight damaging our eyes can be intimidating, with the right tools, you can enjoy your seasonal fun outdoors while also reducing your risk of developing eye disease related to UV rays exposure. Just remember that it's important to invest in these protective tools and to use them now while your eyes are still healthy. Our staff members would rather see you wearing your hats and sunglasses now than see your eyes developing problems later in life.

If you have concerns or questions about finding the best protective accessories for your own eyes, don't worry! You're welcome to talk to your Everett & Hurite doctor - we'll be happy to provide advice and feedback regarding your vision needs and care. Call an office near you today, and get ready for your spring breaks and summer vacations!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do corrective lenses improve visual acuity?

Corrective lenses work by changing the way that light enters the eye, helping to correct any refractive errors and allowing for clearer vision. These lenses can be prescribed by an eye doctor to improve visual acuity in individuals with refractive errors like nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. They may also be used to correct presbyopia, a common age-related vision problem.

What is the leading cause of eye strain?

Eye strain is often caused by prolonged use of digital devices, such as computers, smartphones, and tablets. This is due to the constant focusing and refocusing required when looking at a screen, which can lead to fatigue and eye strain. Other causes of eye strain include reading in low light conditions, driving long distances without breaks, and not blinking enough while using digital devices.

How does damage to the optic nerve lead to vision loss?

The optic nerve is responsible for carrying visual information from the eye to the brain. When it becomes damaged, this communication is disrupted and can lead to vision loss. Common causes of optic nerve damage include glaucoma, optic neuritis, and tumors. Regular eye exams are important in detecting any issues with the optic nerve and preventing potential vision loss.