Why protect your eyes?
Because in the short-term, too much exposure to very bright sunlight can cause photo-keratitis or photo conjunctivitis (also known as ‘snow blindness’). In the long-term, exposure to UV radiation over many years may result in eye problems such as cataracts (which cause a gradual clouding of the natural lens of the eye) or a pterygium, a growth on the surface of the eye. Long-term sun exposure can also contribute to macular degeneration of the retina, a leading cause of blindness in later life1.
It is relatively rare, but the eye is one of the places you would not expect to find skin cancer. Too much UV exposure can lead to skin cancers including basal cell carcimona (BCC), a form of skin cancer that typically affects the eyelids2, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. While BCC most commonly occurs on the lower eyelid, the site of most frequent exposure, it can also develop in the corners of the eye or under the eyebrows - and can spread to the eye itself.
What’s more, melanoma can develop in the lining or one of the coatings of the eye, which may appear as a dark spot or you might feel scratchiness under the lid. These can also be symptoms of other eye conditions, so if you’re experiencing these symptoms, see your doctor, an eye specialist, or ask your Melanographer at your MoleMap appointment.
To avoid all of the above, here are nine easy and doable steps to protecting your precious eyes:
1. Wrap on some sunnies.
Wear good quality sunglasses year-round whenever you are out in the sun (even in winter) as sun damage to the eyes can occur any time of year. Choose shades that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB light. When purchasing sunglasses, look for sunglasses that comply with Australian standards, as these are more stringent than New Zealand’s voluntary standards.
And the bigger, the better - the more coverage from sunglasses, the less sun damage inflicted on the eyes and the delicate skin around them. Consider buying oversized glasses or wraparound-style glasses, which help cut down on the UV rays entering the eye from the side.
2. Slap on a hat.
Hats can block as much as half of all UV rays from your eyes and eyelids. So always wear a hat in the sun, preferably one with at least a six-centimetre brim - and make sure it shades your eyes, nose, scalp and as much of your face as possible. Ideally, choose a sun hat that’s made of high UPF sun protective fabrics, such as Solbari’s range of UPF50+ sunhats – especially for the little people in your life.
3. Slip into the shade.
Seems obvious, but a very simple way to protect your eyes is to stay in the shade as much as possible, especially between 10am and 4pm during the summer months. When you’re outside, turn your face away from the sun as much as possible – this will also protect the skin on your face from sunburn and long-term sun damage.
4. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Choose a sunscreen for the face that has an SPF of at least 30+ (or higher) to protect the easily damaged skin around your eyes when you need to take off your shades. Some of the latest sunscreens are specifically designed not to sting the eyes, such as La Roche Posay’s Invisible Fluid Mineral Sunscreen SPF50.
5. Beware the glare.
Don’t be fooled by a cloudy day: the sun’s rays can pass through haze and clouds. So get in the habit of wearing sunglasses and a hat, even when there is cloud cover and especially in the summer months. And remember that over 80 percent of the sun’s rays can reflect off snow, sand and water3
, which means you’re getting a double-whammy of rays from both the sun and reflective surface. UV intensity increases at high altitudes, so if you’re skiing, snowboarding or hiking, be sure to wear good-quality eye wear and sunscreen.
6. Wear goggles when swimming.
Chlorine is designed to protect you from exposure to germs, but it can hurt your eyes – and we all know from experience that sea water stings your eyes. The simplest solution is to wear goggles every time you swim in a pool or the ocean – you’ll feel better and avoid having red or tired eyes afterwards!
7. Stay hydrated.
During the summer months, it’s easier to become dehydrated, which can affect your eyes. Serious dehydration makes it harder for the body to produce tears, leading to ‘dry eye’ and other vision problems. So drink plenty of water each day – apart from all the other health benefits, it provides the necessary fluid for normal eye function.
8. Polarised doesn’t mean protected.
Polarised lenses can reduce glare coming off reflective surfaces like water or pavement, but they don’t always reduce UV rays. While polarised lenses can make activities like driving or being on the water safer and more enjoyable, that doesn’t mean they’re a licence to stay out in the sun all day!
9. Protect little peepers especially.
Children of all ages need to wear hats and sunglasses as much as adults do. Children often spend a lot of time in the sun and they tend to have larger pupils and clearer lenses than adults, so they’re more susceptible to retinal damage as more UV can penetrate deep into their eyes4.
For children, it’s important to choose sunglasses that are comfortable, fit well and they’ll be happy to wear, so if possible, involve them in choosing a pair (wrap‐around styles are ideal as they also protect the delicate skin around a child’s eyes). And make sure they also wear a broad-brimmed hat or a cap with sides to protect their eyes (and face and neck) from the sun on all sides.
Sources: 1.2. www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/for-your-eyes/how-sunlight-damages-the-eyes. 3. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/eye-protection/ 4. Kanazawa Medical University, Japan, 2012. ‘Children, adults under 30 years of age, and pseudophakic individuals with UV-transmitting IOLs should wear sunglasses in bright environments’(www.ajo.com/article/S0002-9394(09)00892-7/abstract?cc=y?cc=y)
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