As summer gets into full swing, many of us are looking forward to outdoor activities. Before you head out into the sunshine, though, take this opportunity to consider why May is designated as Ultraviolet Awareness Month and learn how to protect yourself and your eyes.
The sun’s UV rays can burn the eye’s cornea and conjunctiva and raise the risk of future eye problems, such as cataracts, macular degeneration and possibly eye cancer called epidermoid carcinoma. Your eyes can even get a sunburn, known as photokeratitis, which may result in pain and temporary vision loss!
Protecting your eyes during outdoor activities is one of the easiest, most basic elements of proper eye care. Here are some tips to help:
- ALWAYS wear sunglasses that block 100% of UV-A and UV-B rays. Sun-shades that do not protect from UV rays can actually be more harmful than not wearing protective lenses because they cause your pupils to dilate, allowing even more of the harmful rays in.
- Wrap-around sunglasses are ideal for protecting the eyes and skin surrounding them.
- While some contact lenses provide protection against UV rays, they do not protect the whole eye or the skin around the eye, so sunglasses are still necessary for full protection.
- Sunglasses, particularly those for children, need to be made from impact resistant material (polycarbonate) for safe use during outdoor activities.
- Be aware that prescriptions you are currently taking can cause sensitivity to light.
- Always use eye protection in tanning beds, which will produce significantly higher UV levels than the sun.
It’s also important to have annual dilated eye exams, especially adults who are at higher risk for eye cancer. Factors that increase your risk include fair skin, prolonged sun exposure, tanning bed use, smoking, a family history of eye cancer, and having light-colored eyes.