The simple answer is yes, too much sunlight can damage the eyes. There are several risks associated with excessive exposure to intense sunlight, most of which have been outlined here for your review. Of course, spending time in the sun is usually a byproduct of an active lifestyle, which isn’t something to be discouraged – so we’ve included some expert tips here to help you prevent the harmful effects of too much sunlight.
Sunlight: What are the Effects?
Sunlight is composed of a full spectrum of energy that includes visible light, ultraviolet (UV) light, and infrared (IR) light. Neither UV nor IR light is visible to the human eye, but exposure to UV light has been linked to an increased risk of damage to the eye and its surrounding parts including the eye lid, cornea, lens, conjunctiva, and macula.
Exposure to sunlight in moderation is healthy. However, the longer your eyes are exposed to UV light, and the greater the intensity the light, the higher risk you have of developing a serious eye condition. Too much light causes eye deterioration or abnormal growths, which can lead to partial or complete blindness. Light reflection in the form of glare can also cause immediate pain and long term sight issues.
What are the Dangers?
There are several eye diseases that can be caused by too much exposure to sunlight, most of which are listed below. These conditions can show up in one or both eyes and progress independently.
Eyelid Cancer: Eyelids are at risk for developing forms of carcinoma or melanoma, particularly on the lower eyelid. Signs of this cancer include a lesion or bump that is irregular in shape or often bleeds, a change in the appearance of the eyelid such as thickness, irregular texture or swelling, unexplained eyelash loss, or persistent redeye that does not respond to treatment.
Cataracts: This condition is the slow clouding and yellowing of the eye’s lens that can lead to cloudy vision and sensitivity to glare – and even blindness in some cases.
Corneal Sunburn: Just as your skin burns, so can the surface of the eyes. Short but intense exposure of UVB rays can damage the clear tissue on the front of the eye, resulting in cornea flash burns. This condition is especially prevalent in skiers, farmers, surfers, and fisherman who are regularly exposed to extreme UV conditions caused by the reflection of ultraviolet light off of water, sand, or snow. Artificial light sources from tanning beds, welder’s arc, and photographer’s flash can also cause cornea flash burns.
Additional conditions that are believed to be related to excessive UV light exposure include benign eye growths on the cornea and conjunctiva (the thin membrane that covers the white part of the eye) called a pterygium, macular degeneration caused by damage to the retina, and conjunctival melanoma. Routine checkups with an ophthalmologist can help diagnose these issues in their earliest stages.
So, What Can You Do?
Protection is key, and it can be as simple as wearing UV blocking sunglasses. The best sunglasses are those that block both UVA and UVB light. Keep in mind that the color of the lens or their degree of darkness is not related to their ability to block out UV rays.
Additionally, choose sunglasses with large or wraparound lenses. This extra coverage minimizes the amount of light that can enter the eyes from the sides and from above.
Wearing large brimmed hats is another excellent way to keep sunlight out of your eyes.
Everyone is at risk, from babies and children to the elderly. Do not be fooled by overcast days because sunshine can still penetrate clouds. Be sure that all members of your family protect their eyes by wearing proper sunglasses while outdoors.
By Dr. Sudarat Yaisawang, Ophthalmologist, Eye Center, Bumrungrad Hospital
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