26 Jul 5 Eye Conditions Related to Sun Damage
The summer heat is here, and you likely are enjoying soaking in the sun. However, if you are out in the sun, it is important that you keep your eyes protected. Whether you are being active outdoors, heading on vacation, or simply relaxing in the sun, you should make it a priority to shield your eyes from the damaging rays of the sun. In fact, sun exposure can lead to several eye conditions, many of which can be avoided with proper sun protection. Continue reading for 5 eye conditions that can be caused by sun damage.
1. Corneal Sunburn
The cornea is the outer cover of they eye and could also be considered the “skin” of the eye. Like the skin, it is also possible for the cornea to become sunburned. The technical term for a sunburned eye is Photokeratitis, but it is also more commonly known as snow blindness. But don’t be fooled! A sunburned cornea can also occur in the summer, especially when visiting an open area such as a beach.
Corneal sunburn is the painful inflammation of the cornea caused by unfiltered UV ray exposure. It can cause redness, tearing, light sensitivity, and general eye pain. Due to the amplification of the sun’s rays reflecting off a light-coloured surface, trips to the beach or the slopes are common culprits for corneal sunburn. While the sunburn will fade over time, healing can be helped by using artificial tears to assist with lubrication, and cold compresses to ease discomfort. To prevent corneal sunburn, be sure to wear proper protective sun wear, such as sunglasses or a sun hat, when you head outside on a summer day.
Pinguecula is another eye disease that is related to sun exposure. A Pinguecula is a white or yellow bump on the conjunctiva, the gelatinous layer covering the white of your eye, outside of the iris. Pinguecula is more common in patients living in sunny areas, such as the beach or the dessert, and hence has been linked to sun exposure. Pinguecula can be treated with prescription eye drops, and sunglasses or goggles should be used to protect eyes from the sun, wind, and sand to prevent the condition from worsening.
If you are headed to a sunny destination this summer, you should be aware of Pinguecula and its cousin, Pterygium. With continued sun exposure, a pinguecula could continue to grow. Eventually, it could grow into the cornea, the clear front part of the eye, and develop into Pterygium. While Pinguecula can be difficult to detect, Pterygium is much more noticeable, as it forms a white wedge or wing-shaped growth over clear tissue.
If it is allowed to continue growing, it can lead to scarring of the cornea, potentially causing permanent vision loss or distortion. Surgery is required to remove the Pterygium and save one’s vision; however, there is a high recurrence rate for Pterygium after removal, and it is best to avoid it all together. The best prevention is sun protection, and so it is best to ensure you are covered, especially when visiting a tropical, sunny destination!
4. Macular Degeneration
Sun damage can also be related to more serious, long-term eye conditions, such as macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is caused by damage to the retinal tissue, and there is evidence that increased sun exposure throughout your life can lead to higher chances of developing macular degeneration.
The retina is the multi-layered lining within the eye, and near the center of the retina is the macula. The macula is where we get our central vision and is the area of the eye that provides the clearest vision. In cases of macular degeneration, the tissue composition of the macula begins to change, causing a loss of central vision. This leads to blurred vision, and eventually can lead to partial or full vision loss.
Usually, macular degeneration progresses slowly, and is most common in those over 50. However, as there is no cure for macular degeneration—the treatment is only meant to slow its progression—it is important to be aware of early symptoms and have regular eye appointments to increase chances of early detection. If your lifestyle means that you are exposed to high levels of sun and UV rays, it is especially important to be aware of signs of macular degeneration.
Our final eye condition is also more common in those who have higher exposure to sun. Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes clouded, affecting vision. While it is most associated with aging, there is evidence that those with constant exposure to the sun, especially individuals living close to the equator, can develop cataracts more rapidly.
Typically, cataracts are treated surgically. The lens of the eye is surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens which restores vision. While cataracts is treatable, it is best to work towards preventing them, so you can avoid a surgical procedure. Wear UV-blocking sunglasses if you will be spending time in the sun and make sure to eat a healthy diet. Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and other antioxidant rich foods can further reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
Before heading outdoors and soaking in the sun, it is important that you protect yourself from its harmful effects. Always wear sun protection for your eyes, including UV-blocking sunglasses or a sun hat, when you will be outside for an extended period of time. You may not be able to apply sunscreen for your eyes… but you can still take steps to protect them!
To ensure that any harmful eye conditions are being detected early, be sure to visit your eye care professional for regular examinations. The optometrists at Dr D’Orio Eyecare are committed to your eye health and will answer any questions you may have about keeping your vision healthy. To book an appointment today, visit https://drdorioeyecare.com/book-appointment/ or call us at 416 656 2020 for our Toronto location, or 416 661 5555 for our North York location.