Can my eyes get sunburned?

Wearing sunglasses that protect against UVA, HEV and UVB rays can protect your eyes from sunburn.

It is widely known that excess UV-A and UV-B rays cause sunburn and skin cancer, but fewer people realize that they also cause eye burns. Growing scientific research has led leading authorities such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology to warn that repeated exposure to ultraviolet (UV) and near-ultraviolet light can contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration. The lens of the adult human eye absorbs a certain amount of ultraviolet radiation and near-ultraviolet light to protect the eye. Long hours in the sun or exposure to intense reflections tax a person’s natural defenses and can result in a painful condition called photokeratitis or snow blindness. This condition usually heals on its own in about a week, but repeated episodes can cause scarring and eventually contribute to cataracts.

Anatomy of the human eye.

People can see and feel their skin burning, but they can’t feel it when it happens to their eyes. Slightly sunburned eyes cause symptoms a few hours later. Dryness, itching, burning, tearing, and heightened sensitivity to light are typical. Most of the time, the cause is not attributed to the sun, and often the eyes are repeatedly burned, especially during the summer and winter months when ultraviolet radiation is intensified, reflecting off snow and water. Over the years, repeatedly burning your eyes can lead to severe and permanent visual impairment.

Overexposure to sunlight can contribute to eye problems.

While medical professionals are already aware of the dangers of ultraviolet rays, studies now suggest that exposure to near-ultraviolet light, known as high-energy visible light (HEV) or blue light, is a possible contributor to macular degeneration. This chronic retinal disease is a leading cause of blindness, with early symptoms including loss of detail in central vision. Tasks such as reading and driving become problematic as the disease worsens.

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Using an umbrella to block the sun can help prevent severe sunburn.

To protect your eyes from harmful rays, wear sunglasses routinely whenever you are outdoors. When shopping for sunglasses, please note that the darkness of a lens is not an indicator of how well the sunglasses protect. Dark lenses make the irises open wider, allowing more light in. If the lenses do not have a high degree of UV and HEV protection, the eyes will be more sunburned.

Normally, people should wear sunglasses when they are outdoors.

Look for the words 100% UVA and UVB and HEV protection, near UV or blue light filtering. Less harmful HEV rays do not need to be filtered out completely. Yellow lenses block all HEV light, removing blue and distorting true color. Amber and melanin lenses filter HEV light while retaining the truest color.

Children’s eyes must also be protected. Shade or umbrella will not prevent a child from getting sunburned at the beach, pool or other highly reflective environments. For maximum protection, choose frame styles that do not allow excessive light to enter the top or sides.

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