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Here Comes the Sun: How the Sun Impacts Your Eyes

Posted on May 5th, 2022

The positive and negative impacts of sun exposure on the eyes

Summer is fast approaching, which means exposure to the sun is about to surge for most people. Just as our skin must be protected from the harmful effects of too much sunlight, our eyes should be shielded, too.

Indeed, excessive exposure to UV light can increase the risk of eye disease and other conditions that can be avoided simply by wearing sunglasses. That being said, there are some positive impacts of sunlight on the eyes, which means dodging the sun entirely is not the best solution. Read on for more insight on the positive and negative impacts of sunlight on vision health. We’re also sharing useful tips to prevent UV light damage, so you can soak up the sun this summer—worry free. 

The toll the sun can take on your eyes

Solar radiation encompasses several types of light, including ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet C (which gets absorbed by the ozone layer, and ideally never makes it to the Earth’s surface). Sustained exposure to UVA and UVB—without protection—can spur significant damage to the eyes over time. 

In short, solar rays come with risks. If your eyes are exposed to an excessive amount of UV radiation, you could be more likely to develop several short-term and long-term eye conditions, including:

- Keratitis: Akin to a sunburn on the eyes, keratitis can result from too much exposure to UV rays, which causes the cornea to burn. This condition is painful but temporary, and typically resolves within 48 hours.

- Cataracts and progressive vision loss: UVA exposure can influence the development of cataracts, as it can trigger protein damage in the eye lens.

- Macular degeneration: Since UV light can cause damage to the central area of the retina and the macula, sustained sun exposure could potentially lead to macular degeneration

- Pterygium: Prolonged exposure to sun can result in pterygium, a growth that extends onto the outer layer of the eye. Typically, the growth does not clear over time but can be removed with surgery. 

The harms of heat 

While UV light exposure is dangerous for obvious reasons, being in the heat for sustained periods of time can also be hard on the eyes. Excessive heat can harm the epithelium (the outermost layer of the cornea). 

Plus, prolonged sun exposure is often linked to heat stroke, which can cause intense dehydration. As a result, spending long hours outside in the sun can trigger dry eyes (also called eye dehydration), which often leads to sensitivity to light, burning and iritation. 

The bright side of sun exposure 

All of that to say, the sun isn’t entirely bad for the eyes. A 2017 study published in JAMA Ophthalmology found that a surge in myopia (nearsightedness) could, in fact, be due to a lack of exposure to sunlight. 

Several studies have shown that a lack of direct exposure to sunlight might actually be behind the myopia boom. Some researchers have found that young people who spend more time in the sun are less likely to develop myopia by middle age.

Still, the harmful effects of sustained sunlight can’t be denied, and as such, doctors recommend people exercise caution outdoors by wearing sunglasses and avoiding midday sunlight, when the radiation is at its peak.

How to prevent sun-induced eye conditions 

In conjunction with wearing sunglasses and dodging midday sunlight, there are a number of things you can do to stop UV radiation from damaging your eyesight. Here are a few ways to protect yourself: 

- Wear proper eye protection (FYidoctors has a wide selection of designer shades, which offer 100% protection against UVA and UVB light, so you can protect your eyes while looking stylish). Plus, choosing frames that wrap around your face offers even more protection. 

- Wear a hat or visor to shield your face (which, of course, includes your eyes!) from the sun.

- Whenever possible, try to avoid sustained sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., as that is when the sun’s rays are most powerful. 

- Don’t visit tanning beds or use sunlamps, as both emit harmful radiation that could hurt your eyes.

- If you wear contact lenses, be sure to ask your optometrist about UV absorbing options. 

Ways to treat eye damage from the sun 

If you have been exposed to sunlight and start experiencing symptoms such as eye pain, headache, swelling, or blurry vision, you may have keratitis. As mentioned above, it is effectively an eye sunburn, and the good news is: it’s temporary.

Although keratitis typically resolves on its own within two days, there are some treatments you can try at home to feel more comfortable, including: 

- A cool compress over the eyes

- Artificial tears 

- Remove contact lenses (this will help your eyes heal)

- Avoid makeup, which can further irritate your eyes 

As for more serious and long-term conditions caused by sun exposure, it’s always best to consult with an eyecare expert about the right treatment plan for you. Don’t self-diagnose, and ensure you seek medical attention from a professional if you are experiencing any vision-related changes. 

The bottom line 

The arrival of warm summer weather and extended sunlight means you must protect your peepers at all costs. The easiest way to do that is by always sporting a pair of sunglasses. You can find a stellar selection of shades (many of which are on sale now!) online or at an FYidoctors clinic near you.