Mom probably told you a lot of things growing up that may have seemed silly. “Keep making that face and it’ll freeze that way!” and “Don’t look at me with those eyes!” And, of course, coming back with a retort, like “These are the only eyes I have,” was never in your best interest.
But the truth is … they really are the only eyes you have. And if you ever heard her tell you “Don’t stare into the sun, you’ll hurt your eyes,” you can thank her for that one because she was absolutely right.
We already know ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage our skin, cause wrinkles and skin cancer (melanoma). But did you know it can also damage your eyes?
There are two types of UV rays in sunlight:
UVA rays cause aging in skin cells and can damage the DNA. They can cause long-term skin damage and are responsible for wrinkles. They have also been linked to skin cancer.
UVB rays have more energy than UVA rays. They directly damage the DNA of skin cells and are the main cause of sunburn. They are the rays most responsible for skin cancer.
Both long- and short-term exposure to UV radiation can harm the eyes, affect vision, and compromise eye health. There are also several eye diseases and conditions caused or aggravated by exposure to UV radiation:
Macular Degeneration (AMD) is caused by damage to the retina over time and is the leading cause of age-related blindness. Extended exposure to UV light increases your risk of developing macular degeneration.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens—the part of the eye that focuses the light we see. UV light, especially UV-B rays, increases your risk for certain types of cataracts. It is estimated that 10% of all cataract cases are directly attributable to UV exposure.
Pterygium (surfer’s eye)
Often called “surfer’s eye,” pterygium is a pink, non-cancerous growth that forms on the layer of conjunctiva over the white of your eye. UV light from the sun is believed to be a factor in the development of these growths.
The skin of the eyelids is very thin. So even if your eyes are closed, you can do damage to your eyes by exposing the lids to the sunlight. Skin cancer in and around the eyelids is also linked to prolonged UV exposure.
Photokeratitis (snow blindness)
Also known as corneal sunburn or “snow blindness,” photokeratitis is the result of high short-term exposure to UV-B rays. Long hours at the beach or skiing without proper eye protection can cause this problem. It can be very painful and may cause temporary vision loss.
Whenever you spend time outdoors, you should wear quality sunglasses that offer UV protection and a hat or cap with a wide brim. To provide adequate protection for your eyes, sunglasses should:
- Block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation
- Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
- Be perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection
- Have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition
If you spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight, consider wearing wraparound frames for additional protection from the harmful solar radiation.
And never, ever look directly at the sun. Looking directly at the sun at any time, including during an eclipse, can lead to solar retinopathy, which is damage to the eye’s retina from solar radiation.
So, go thank your mom and tell her she was right!
American Academy of Opthalmology, American Optometric Association and the Skin Cancer Foundation.