July is a great time to get outside and enjoy the sun. If you are like many people, you slather on sunscreen because you know that ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can damage your skin. Many people do not realize that UV rays can hurt their eyes, though, and may not know that extended exposure to UV rays is associated with eye damage. To help bring awareness to eye safety and UV rays, many eye care professionals recognize July as Optical UV Safety Awareness Month.
Light carries information about the outside world into your eye through the cornea, which is the transparent layer of tissue covering the front of your eye. This light then strikes the light-sensitive tissue lining the inside of the eye, known as the retina. The retina translates the information in the light into electrical pulses that the optic nerve carries to the brain, which then converts the impulses into the images we perceive.
UV Light Damages Eyes
UV light can be damaging to human tissue. Exposure to UV light can cause sunburns and increase your risk for skin cancer, for example. UV light can also harm tissues in and around your eyes, such as your eyelids, cornea, retina, and even the conjunctiva, which is the clear layer of tissue covering the whites of your eyes and the insides of your eyelids.
Exposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds can cause photokeratitis, which is similar to sunburn on the cornea of your eyes. Engaging in certain activities can increase your risk for developing photokeratitis. These activities include:
- Spending a lot of time outdoors in the sun
- Using a sunlamp or tanning bed
- Living in higher altitudes or in the sunbelt
Tips for Protecting Your Eyes from UV Rays this July
- Select sunglasses that block 100 percent of UV rays
- Opt for wrap-around styles to prevent UV rays from entering your eyes from the sides
- Wear a broad-brimmed hat that shades your eyes
- Wear sunglasses even if you wear contact lenses with UV protection
- Protect your eyes on cloudy days too, as UV rays can pass through haze and thin clouds
- Protect your eyes during peak sun times between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest
- Never look directly at the sun
For more information on Optical UV Safety Awareness Month this July, contact your eye care professionals at Illinois Eye Center.