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A Sunburn to the Eyes
Jul 13th, 2011 Headlines

Skin damage isn’t the only health hazard of a sunny day. You can hurt your eyes, too.

Many don’t realize that you can actually sunburn your eyes. When you get sunburn or little blisters on your cornea, which is the clear protective layer that covers the colored part of your eye, it is called photokeratitis.  It is just as painful as sunburn on your skin, and can cause temporary vision loss.  This can be called “snow blindness” because it can happen with excessive sun exposure that reflects off snow, as well as water when you are sitting on the beach.

Even without a sunburn to the eye, nonetheless, sun can cause eye problems over time. Long-term exposure to UV radiation can lead to wrinkles and skin cancer around the eyelids, a growth of tissue on the whites of the eyes called a pterygium, and cataracts and macular degeneration, which can both lead to vision loss.  Similar to the skin cancer risk, the sun you are exposed to as a child and young adult add up over time. Therefore, the sooner you begin  protecting your eyes, the better off you will be.

It is not just the sunny days that pose a problem. Your eyes can even be damaged on days that are cloudy. As mentioned earlier, it is important to remember that there is also reflection of sun off snow during the winter months.  It is necessary to consider the protection of your eyes year-round.

How do you protect your eyes? First of all, it is important to protect your eyes from all angles.  A wide-brimmed hat can shade your eyes from the sun above, while the sunglasses can do the rest.  Many don’t realize that not all sunglasses do the trick. You want the wrap-around kind that will protect your eyes on the sides.  Make sure to look for a pair that will protect against 99-100% UVA and UVB rays.

More protection doesn’t mean higher prices for sunglasses. Don’t be fooled by an expensive pair; they could be a fancy, fashion brand that offers no  protection. The dark tint of sunglasses is also a misconception. They can be dark and still offer no meaningful protection.  In fact, the coating that provides the UV protection on the lenses is actually clear.

Before making that final purchase, try them on not only to make sure they’re comfortable and that you look good, but that they also block out enough light. This is to eliminate any concerns of a possible glare of distortion, which might make it difficult to drive.

As for kid’s sunglasses, children should wear real sunglasses that indicate the UV protection level, instead of a toy pair. Polycarbonate lenses are the most  shatter-resistant.

Polarized lenses reduce glare, so they can be very effective for people who spend a lot of time out on the water.  However, for certain sports like golf, they can distort vision.  In addition, they can also make it more difficult to read your cell phone, computer screen, or GPS device. It is important to note that polarization offers no UV protection. Make sure to look for that reassurance on the label!



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