In western Washington, the sun is finally beginning to peek through the clouds more frequently. Many of us are still avoiding crowded public spaces, but the great outdoors is calling. For some, this means lounging in the backyard or taking a leisurely walk around the neighborhood. For others, it means hitting the trails or getting out on the water. After long months of PNW rain and wind, we’re all ready to soak up some vitamin D. Basking in the sun feels amazing and can have some serious mental health benefits, especially in an area where SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) runs rampant during dark months— but it’s easy to forget that its rays can cause significant damage to our skin and eyes.
The sun emits three different types of UV radiation; UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. UV-C is absorbed by the Earth’s ozone layer and does not pose a threat to us, but exposure to UV-A and UV-B can take a serious toll on our bodies. Just as we wear sunscreen to protect our skin from damaging UV rays, we need to wear sunglasses with UV protection to shield our eyes.
Exposing your eyes to sunlight without proper protection can have both short-term and long-term detrimental impacts. In the short-term, sun exposure can cause photokeratitis— a condition similar to a sunburn that causes symptoms like red eyes, extreme sensitivity to light, excessive tear production, and a gritty feeling in the eyes. Although the condition can be painful, it is usually temporary and rarely causes lasting damage. In the long-term, however, prolonged sun exposure increases your risk for conditions like macular degeneration and cataracts.
The good news is that protecting your eyes is easy, and it’s never too late to start taking safety precautions, even if you have many years of unprotected sun exposure under your belt. You just need glasses and/or sunglasses with excellent quality ophthalmic lenses that block out 99% or more the sun’s harmful UV-A and UV-B rays. Different tints have different effects and some may be better for specific activities— but in general, gray lenses are the best at absorbing all colors equally so that your color perception will not be affected.
Our optical team at Vision Health is here to help you find the best (and most stylish) protective options for your eyes. And if you’re worried that you are experiencing symptoms associated with macular degeneration or cataracts related to sun exposure, make an appointment to be seen by one of our doctors to talk about your concerns.