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Most people know that wearing sunscreen during the summer protects the skin from sunburn, but many people may not know that there is skin covering the eyeball itself that may also be affected by sunlight. Of course avoiding the outdoors would protect against this condition altogether, but most of us cannot resist the summer sun. So what are the risks of not protecting your eyes from harmful UV radiation, and what is the best way to protect your eyes?

 

Short-term excessive UV exposure may cause photokeratits. In photokeratitis, the skin cells of the eyeball  (conjunctiva and cornea) are “burned.” Symptoms of photokeratitis include the following: bloodshot eyes, tearing, sensation of a foreign body in the eye, and light sensitivity. While this condition is preventable by using effective sunglasses, preservative-free hydrating eye drops may provide relief if this condition does happen to you. Despite being uncomfortable, photokeratitis is rarely a threat to vision. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for repeated exposure to UV light.

 

Long-term effects of sunlight include pinguecula, pterygiums, and cataracts. Pingueculae and pterygiums are yellow-white overgrowths of tissue on the eyeball. Pterygiums may extend on to the cornea and block vision requiring surgery to remove. Even without vision loss these lesions may cause irritation requiring lubricating eye drops for relief. Cataracts are a very common cause of vision loss and must also be removed surgically.

 

Eyewear is not only for style - it’s for protection. There are hundreds of different brands, styles, and tints of sunglasses on the market, so it can be difficult to determine which will protect the eyes from the sun and which will not. Beware that dark lenses may cut down on the visible light penetrating the lenses, but UV light is invisible to the human eye so some light lenses may actually protect your eyes better. To determine how well the lenses will protect from UV light look for a pair of sunglasses that blocks 100% of UV light or that have a UV400 label. Another feature to look for in sunglasses is a wraparound design that keeps light from entering through the edges of the sunglasses. Have fun in the sun this summer and please use eye protection!

 

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