Sun safety for your eyes

Woman wearing red hat and sunglassesJust like your skin, your eyes are vulnerable to damage from the sun’s UV rays. Here’s what you need to know about protecting your eyes while enjoying the sunshine.

Being outdoors in the brilliant sunshine is one of the simple pleasures of living in Australia. But it’s always important to enjoy the weather safely and protect ourselves from too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.

“Most of us are very aware of sun safety when it comes to our skin, but our eyes need protection from UV rays too,” says Associate Professor Mark Daniell, Head of Corneal Research at CERA.

Australia experiences some of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world.

In the short term, too much UV exposure can cause eye irritation, excessive blinking and sensitivity to bright light. It can also cause photokeratitis – painful sunburn of the cornea, similar to snow blindness.

Long-term effects can be more serious, and include increased risk of conditions such as:

  • Cataract, a clouding of the lens of the eye, which often requires surgery.
  • Pterygium, a fleshy overgrowth of the conjunctiva (the membrane covering the white part of the eye).
  • Skin cancer of the eyelids or the skin around the eyes.
  • Cancer of the conjunctiva.
  • Solar keratopathy, a cloudiness of the cornea.

How to protect your eyes from UV radiation

Sun safety is important all year round, but naturally the risk of UV exposure is much higher in summer. UV levels generally peak around the middle of the day, when the sun is high in the sky.

Here are a few ways to protect your eyes from the sun, while enjoying time outdoors:

Wear good quality sunglasses

SunglassesTry to get in the habit of wearing sunglasses whenever you spend time outside, even if you’re in the shade or it doesn’t seem especially bright.

All sunglasses should be labelled according to the Australian and New Zealand Sunglass Standards. Lens categories range from 0 (very low protection) to 4 (a good level of UV protection and sun-glare reduction).

“For good sun safety, choose a lens category of 2, 3 or 4,” says Associate Professor Daniell. “Sunglasses with a rating of 3 or 4 absorb almost all UV radiation.”

Another way to assess the quality of your lenses is the Eye Protection Factor (EPF). Look for a rating of 9 or 10 – these provide an excellent level of protection.

Sunglasses in a close-fitting, wrap-around style will block more UV light, and polarised lenses are good for reducing glare.

Add a wide-brimmed hat

This gives your eyes extra protection, as well as reducing UV exposure to your face to protect your skin. Combining a good pair of sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat can reduce your eyes’ exposure to UV rays by up to 98%.

Be extra careful around water, sand or snow

Sunlight reflected off light surfaces, like water or white sand, can expose your eyes to an extra hit of UV radiation. That’s why it’s especially important to be sun smart when you’re by the pool or at the beach. Even if you’re in the shade, wear your hat and sunglasses to give yourself the best protection.

For more eye health tips, download your free Healthy Ageing Eyes guide.

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