The sun is a blessing to many of those that are hoping to spend their day at the beach or go out for a bike ride. However, it is important to protect yourself against the damaging rays as they can affect your eyes. Below is listed some of the common signs and symptoms of sun damage to the eyes and the precautions that can be taken to protect yourself.
Cataract refers to the natural yellowing of the lens inside the eye that is partially responsible for focusing light onto the nerve layer at the back of the eye. This change in the transparency of the lens causes the individual to view their world as increasingly blurry, hazy, or less bright. Although this is a natural change that will occur in any eye with age, this process is sped up by a variety of other factors, including exposure to UV rays. Proper eye protection using sunglasses that block against UV-A and UV-B is important to note as some lenses sold may not block these rays. Polarized sunglasses are especially helpful as they selectively block out more light than regular sunglasses.
Pterygia and pingueculae are often seen on the white parts of the eye as little bumps, usually to the immediate left and right of the colored part at the center of the eye. They are commonly benign and do not affect vision, but in some cases they can get inflamed, grow onto the front surface of the eye, and affect vision or cause discomfort when wearing contact lenses. UV exposure increases the likelihood of these developing but other factors such as age, outdoor occupations and male gender can also contribute to growth. Treatment is often not needed for these conditions but in certain cases, steroids can be given to decrease the inflammation. Surgical excision is also possible if the pterygium or pinguecula is large, the growth is extending onto the front surface of the eye, or for cosmetic preference. Over the counter artificial tears can sometimes be used for comfort. Sunglasses can also prevent a portion of the UV exposure.
Staring directly at the sun for extended periods of time (i.e. viewing an eclipse) also has an effect on the eye, specifically the nerve layer at the back of the eye. The main symptom of solar retinopathy is decreased vision due to burning of the light absorbing cells at the back of the eye. There is no treatment for this but luckily, vision will return to normal or near normal within the next 6 months. The amount of recovery is inversely proportional to the amount of sun exposure. The simple way to prevent this condition is to not stare directly at the sun for extended periods of time and to wear specific protection if needed as weld flashes, lasers, and operating room lighting can also cause this damage.
The eyelid, like other external protective parts of the body, is composed of skin and susceptible to skin cancers. When applying sunscreen, the eyelids often get missed and they are thus an exposed area of skin to the sun. This increases the risk of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, keratoacanthoma, and melanoma. Sunscreen application to the eyelids and the use of sunglasses can help prevent these cancers.