March 3, 2024

It’s not just your skin that gets burned by the sun. Your eyes are also vulnerable to the harmful -ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer.

It is always a sight for sore eyes when the summer sun finally breaks through the cloud. But failing to protect your eyes in the sun is a short-sighted mistake that could cost you your vision.

On a hot British summer’s day it can takes just 15 minutes to exceed the daily UV exposure limit.

Yet the average person actually exposes their eyes for1 hour 45 minutes. That’s seven times the safe limit.

That is why experts have launched Think About Your Eyes, a campaign that urges sunseekers to protect their vision before their eyes are damaged permanently.

“Although people are more aware than ever about protecting their skin from sun, there’s more to do when it comes to protecting our eyes from UV rays,” says optician Andy Hepworth.

The eye is designed to protect itself from UV light. The lens and cornea, (the transparent layer at the front of the eye) let in light but filter out UV rays. But over a number of years this can leave them damaged.

They are also unable to block all UV rays, which contain radiation that can damage the body’s DNA.

Damage can be irreversible and resulting problems range from blurred vision to eye cancer. It can even raise the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration that will rob you of your sight later in life.

However, this damage can be prevented by taking a series of simple steps, such as wearing a hat and sunglasses outdoors, regardless of whether it is sunny or cloudy.

“These UV rays reach us even on overcast days so wearing sunglasses during the summer months is -essential,” says Andy. “And they can affect us all year round. That’s why it’s important to take the necessary precautions, whatever the weather.”

We asked Andy to separate fact from fiction so you can make the right choices both on holiday, in the garden or when outside at work:

All spectacle lenses completely protect your eyes from UV light – False

Not all glasses and contact lenses offer your eyes the same protection. Just as every bottle of sunscreen has a sun protection factor (SPF), every pair of lenses has its own rating too.

“Go for regular eye exams to check the health of your eyes and talk to your -optician about the spectacle lens E-SPF index,” says Andy. “It’s like the SPF index, but for eyes. That way you can find the right lenses for you.”

Your eyes can get sunburned – True

That doesn’t just mean the delicate skin on your eyelids. Photokeratitis is sunburn of the cornea, the transparent layer at the front of the eye.

Not only is it painful, it can also lead to temporary blurring or loss of vision.

Andy says:-“Photokeratitis makes the eye feel gritty and sore. And while your vision will heal over time, there will be some lasting effects thanks to the UV damage.”

Sunglasses and protective lenses are the only way to protect eyes – True

Most sun creams available are not suitable for the delicate skin around your eyes, so the best way to
avoid sunburn and UV damage is to wear wrap-around sunglasses or UV-protected lenses.

“Wearing protective lenses should be as much of a priority as wearing sunscreen,” says Andy. “Look for the CE mark on sunglasses to make sure they offer UV protection.”

Sun damage can have a cumulative effect and irreversibly changing your vision – True

This can start at a young age, as -children spend time outdoors. Their eyes are also more transparent with wider pupils that in more UV light, which causes more damage.
Andy says: “As this damage is -cumulative it’s important to start good habits like wearing a hat and sunglasses early.

That will reduce the likelihood of the early onset of cataracts and macular degeneration.”

You don’t need to protect your eyes on a cloudy day or in the shade – False

Your eyes aren’t just at risk when you are outside in the strong summer sunshine.

UV light can also damage your eyes on a cloudy day or when you are sitting in the shade. It can even reflect off pavements and concrete.

“Although the risk of damage from UV light is higher during summer, that doesn’t mean it’s only a problem on sunny days,” say Andy.

“Sitting in the shade will give you more protection but it’s still best to wear a hat and sunglasses whenever you can.”