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What you need to know about the sun and your eyes

The summer season is about having fun under the sun. While it’s all fun to play outdoors, prolonged exposure to the sun could bring you eye trouble.

According to Asian Eye’s Cornea and External Disease Specialist Dr. Sharlene Noguera, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays cause serious damage on the eyes. “Long-term sun exposure can have short-term or long-term effects on the eye. These UV rays can affect the cornea or the clear front window of the eye, which causes growths on the eyes. They can also pass through the cornea and affect the back part of the eye – usually, the lens and the retina.”

Among the eye diseases and conditions that people need to look out for include:

  • Photokeratitis – Also called corneal sunburn, photokeratitis is often a result of spending long hours at the beach or skiing without eye protection. It can be painful and may cause temporary vision loss.
  • Pterygium – It is characterized by a pink, fleshy tissue that starts growing on the sclera (the white of the eye) near the nose bridge. Eventually, it will cover your cornea and interfere with your vision.
  • Cataracts – It is the clouding of the natural lens of the eye, causing blurry vision. If left undetected or untreated, it may lead to blindness.
  • Age-related macular degeneration – AMD involves the loss of central vision. For people with AMD, it is as if they are seeing a black hole at the center. It is caused by the growth of weak blood vessels that leak blood in the retina.

Anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors is at risk for these eye problems. People who live in tropical climates like the Philippines and those who work under the sun for a long time like farmers, fishermen, seafarers, resort staff, traffic enforcers and construction workers are prone to these conditions.

“Filipinos love going to the beach, but they don’t know that UV levels are also higher in open spaces,” says Dr. Noguera, “Aside from UV rays from the sun, reflected UV rays are also dangerous. UV rays can also be reflected off surfaces like water, sand and pavements, so beach lovers, surfers and even those who like boating are also at higher risk.”

UV rays are also greater when the sun is high in the sky or from 10AM to 2PM. They are also present even when it’s cloudy.

While wearing sunglasses is a good idea when it comes to eye protection, it is important to note that not all sunglasses are the same. Dr. Noguera advises, “Make sure to get sunglasses from a reputable retailer. They should be able to block 100% of UV rays. A pair of wrap-around sunglasses or those with large lenses can help cover your eyes. For those with blurry vision, you can ask your optometrist for UV-coated contact lenses or prescription glasses.”

She also urges parents to protect their children’s eyes. “Children are not immune to sun damage. Their natural lenses are clearer than adults’, so they absorb more UV doses. Their natural lenses also transmit more UV radiation to the retina.” The retina is located at the back part of the eye and acts like the film in the camera. When light strikes, it “takes a picture” and sends it to the brain through the optic nerve.

“It’s better to start them young to minimize their risk of developing eye problems later in life,” she adds.