Summer is here and that means spending time outside in the sun. Most people know to wear sunscreen to protect their skin from harmful UV rays and to keep from becoming sunburned. However, your skin isn’t the only part of your body that can be harmed by UV rays. Your eyes can be damaged, too.

Here’s all the information you need to know to keep your eyes safe from damage caused by UV rays.

How Can the Sun Damage Eyes?

There are sensitive cells in the eyes that can be damaged over time if exposed to too much UV light from the sun. The effects may not be immediately evident as with a sunburn. But over time, exposure to the sun’s rays can cause lasting damage to the eyes that affect vision.

People whose eyes have been sun-damaged may be more at risk for developing the following:

  • Cataracts
  • Lens-clouding
  • Blurred vision
  • Vision loss
  • Night blindness
  • Photokeratitis
  • Pterygium (surfer’s eye)
  • Pinguecula

What is Photokeratitis?

Photokeratitis is a sunburn on your eyes. This condition is also called snow blindness because it can be caused in winter by sunlight reflecting off of snow.

The symptoms of photokeratitis include:

  • Pain in the eye
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Redness
  • Tearing
  • Swelling
  • Grittiness
  • Blurriness
  • Twitching eyelids
  • Seeing halos
  • Smaller pupils
  • Temporary vision loss in extreme cases

What Is Pterygium?

Pterygium is an eye condition commonly called surfer’s eye, although it can affect anyone, even non-athletes, who spend a lot of time outside. The primary symptom of pterygium is pink, fleshy tissue growing on the conjunctiva of the eye, which is the clear tissue that covers the eyeball itself and also lines the insides of the eyelids. The pink growth of pterygium usually begins on the parts of the eye closest to the nose and can burn, itch, and cause redness. It can also give you the sensation that something is in your eye.

What Is Pinguecula?

Pinguecula is an eye condition that is similar to pterygium. It’s a bump or patch of yellow on the conjunctiva that usually shows up before the pink growth of pterygium appears. Pinguecula can become irritated and red like pterygium.

How Can You Protect Your Eyes?

Fortunately, you can protect your eyes from the sun just like you can your skin. To start, you should always wear sunglasses, which can help protect your eyes from the sun throughout the year.

1. Buy the Right Sunglasses

The first step to protecting your eyes is making sure that you have the right kind of protective eyewear. For a summer spent outdoors, that’s sunglasses. It’s important not to buy just any sunglasses, however. Your sunglasses should block both UVA and UVB rays. If you’re not sure that your sunglasses are protective enough, ask your eye doctor.

UV protection isn’t the only factor you need to look at in sunglasses. You should also make sure that the frames are large enough to actually protect your eyes from the sun. Wrap-around sunglasses may be a good idea to achieve full protection.

If you don’t already have a pair of prescription sunglasses, talk to your eye doctor at Primera Eye to pick up a pair.

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2. Buy UV-Blocking Contacts

If you wear contact lenses, you can buy UV-blocking contacts that can help to protect your eyes. There are two classes of UV-blocking contact lenses, but Class 1 lenses offer more protection. Class 2 UV-blocking lenses can block up to 70% of UVA rays and up to 95% of UVB rays while Class 1 UV-blocking lenses can block up to 96% of UVA rays and up to 100% UVB rays, depending on the brand of UV-blocking contacts.

However, UV-blocking contacts don’t cover as much of the eye as sunglasses so it’s still recommended that you wear protective sunglasses as well. UV-blocking contacts are a good supplement to sunglasses to ensure that your eyes are fully protected from the sun. If you wear contact lenses, talk to your optometrist about purchasing some that can also block out UV rays.

3. Wear a Hat

A hat with a brim can offer an extra layer of protection from the sun’s rays. The hat’s brim can help to protect your eyes from the sun rays that are coming from overhead. However, you shouldn’t replace a hat with sunglasses because the hat won’t protect your eyes from glare reflecting off of surfaces below.

4. Avoid the Sun’s Strongest Rays

Many people believe that the sun is strongest at noon. When it comes to protecting your eyes, however, the sun is actually more dangerous in the morning and mid-afternoon when it’s not as high in the sky. For this reason, the sun is also still harmful to your eyes at other times of the year as well—even in winter.

5. Wear Sunglasses Even When It’s Cloudy

Just because the sun is blocked by clouds doesn’t mean that you’re safe from the damage UV rays can cause. Contrary to what many people believe, most UV rays can actually pass directly through clouds. This means that to protect your eyes, you should make sure to wear UV-blocking sunglasses even on cloudy days.

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