Eye sunburn is real. Here’s what you need to know

Dec 16, 2019
Source: Getty

You’ve probably been told at some point in your life not to look directly at the sun, and for good reason.

We all know about the link between sun exposure and skin cancer, but UV rays can also have a serious impact on your eyes, optometrist Robyn Weinberg tells Starts at 60. Yep, eye sunburn is a real thing.

Australia experiences some of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world, which means we need to be more diligent about protecting our eyes from the sun’s harmful rays.

Risk factors

“Everyone can be affected by UV damage and if you’re spending a lot of time in the sun, you’re automatically at risk,” Weinberg explains.

Other risk factors that may increase your chances of getting your eyes sunburned, include:

  • Cataract surgery in one or both eyes
  • A family history of retinal diseases
  • Certain medications, including tetracycline, sulfa drugs, diuretics and tranquillisers.

What can UV damage do to your eyes?

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never thought about how too much sun can damage the eyes. Some of the more serious eye conditions that are caused by UV rays include:

  • Macular degeneration is the leading cause of age-related vision loss in Australia. There are two main types of macular degeneration; dry and wet. Dry macular degeneration is the most common type and causes blurred or reduced central vision, while wet macular degeneration is rarer and can develop suddenly. Long-term UV radiation exposure is associated with macular degeneration
  • Cataracts can appear as a cloudiness in the lens of the eye. The most common symptoms of cataracts include blurred vision, sensitivity to light and poor night vision. Research has found that UV rays can induce the formation of cataracts
  • Pterygium is a pinkish, often triangular, non-cancerous growth on the surface of the eye. The exact cause of pterygium isn’t known, however, too much exposure to UV light can encourage their development
  • Skin cancer around the eyes, especially on the eyelids, is also linked to long-term UV radiation exposure
  • Photokeratitis, also known as snow blindness, is a painful eye condition caused by UV radiation. Symptoms include blurred vision, redness, swollen eyelids, difficulty looking at bright lights, excessive blinking and watering, and a gritty feeling in the eyes.

Protecting your eyes from the sun

Weinberg says it’s relatively easy to protect your eyes from the sun by wearing a good pair of sunglasses.

“Make sure you choose sunglasses that meet the Australian standards for UV protection by checking that they’re labelled as category 2, 3 or 4 or marked as EPF (Eye Protection Factor) 9 or 10,” she explains.

“Your glasses should be sitting close to the bridge of your nose without touching the eyelashes and have side protection or wrap around to block outside glare.”

According to SunSmart, wearing a broad-brimmed hat can cut the UV exposure reaching your eyes by 50 per cent. It’s also important to have your eyes tested regularly to identify and prevent many of the problems caused by UV rays.

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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