By Karen Kwan
You might be playing it smart with your skin in the sun (applying a minimum of SPF 30 every day and reapply every couple of hours, for example) and for that we give you props—but are you making sure to protect your eyes from UV rays? “Over a lifetime, sun damage to your eyes can accumulate,” says Dr. Vishakha Thakrar, an optomotrist based in Toronto.
And what can happen when that damage accumulates? While we often think of cataracts as a very common symptom due to aging, UV damage is actually a significant cause of this condition (which is a clouding of the eye’s lens). Other contributing factors include genetics (yes, you can thank your folks for passing on the genes to you) and your environment (such as the altitude you live in, for example—the higher your altitude, the higher your risk).
In the short term, the sun’s UV rays can also sunburn your cornea. Known as photokeratitis, this can afflict people who ski or are in the water a lot and symptoms can include severe pain, redness and tearing. And much like a sunburn to your skin (when you often notice that tender, stinging sensation of your skin when it’s far too late), you typically only experience the symptoms of photokeratitis, which can feel like having sand in your eye, hours after exposure.
So how to protect those peepers? Here are four tips on keeping your eyes safe in the sun:
Wear sunglasses when outdoors
Sunglasses offer some level of protection, says Dr. Thakrar, although she notes that the sun’s rays can still enter your eyes from above or from the sides of your shades. Wraparound styles will offer more protection, she says, but adds that she realizes fashion trends don’t always dictate wraparounds as the style du jour.
Put on a hat
Wear a wide-brimmed hat that blocks the sun from reaching your eyes from above your sunglasses. (Bonus: the shade it provides will shield your face, too).
Use contact lenses with UV protection
If you’re a contact lens wearer, look for a line of lens that has built-in UV protection. After all, if you’re already wearing your contacts regularly, why not wear one that offers your eyes protection from the sun? 1-Day Acuvue Moist contact lenses, for example, block approximately 82 percent of UVA rays and 97 percent of UVB rays. But don’t count on contact lenses with UV protection alone; sunglasses and a hat are still a must.
Shop smart when selecting sunglasses
Look for a label on the sunglasses that detail what level of UV protection they offer. If the label simply says UV protection on them, that can mean anything, says Dr. Thakrar. “Look for sunglasses that offer 100-percent UVA/UVB protection or UV 400,” she says (both terms mean that same thing).