HN Doctor’s Corner: Your Eyes & the Summer Sun

Protect Your Eyes This SummerSummer is upon us!  It’s the time for beach days, pool parties, and lots of fun in the sun.  Most will remember to slather on the sunscreen to protect their skin from harmful UV radiation … But what about protecting your eyes?  Sure, most will throw on a pair of sunglasses to match their perfect summer outing attire, but did you know only 28-40% will do so with protecting their eyes as the primary reason?  It’s well understood that UV radiation causes premature aging and even skin cancer, but those same rays can have detrimental effects on the health of those precious peepers!

Here’s a quick review.  UV radiation comes in 3 forms.  UVC is filtered by the earth’s ozone layer and doesn’t pose a risk (yet!).  UVB causes sunburns, while UVA promotes tanning and aging, and both predispose us to skin cancer.  Longer periods of time in the sun, especially when UV radiation is highest during the summer months, increases your risk of sun damage.  Keep in mind the exposure is cumulative, meaning exposure today may cause damage later in life.

UVA and UVB can also cause short-term and long-term effects on eye health.  Extended exposure to the sun, even indirectly from reflections from surfaces including sand and pavement, can cause an extremely painful sunburn to the eye’s outer protective layer, the cornea.  Termed “photokeratopathy,” when severe enough, it can cause temporary blindness.  Cumulative exposure can lead to long-term effects like cataracts, macular degeneration, and abnormal tissue growth including pterygium and eyelid cancers.

So what can we do to protect our eyes this summer (and year round)?  I always tell my patients “protect your eyes the same way you’re supposed to protect your skin.”  That means UV protection via sunglasses. The American Optometric Association recommends that sunglasses should provide 99-100% UV protection, lenses should be free of distortion and dark enough so your eyes aren’t easily seen in the mirror, and they should wrap to protect your eyes from sun exposure in all directions.  While many contact lenses on the market now provide UV protection, the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests sunglasses are still the way to go.  Wide brimmed hats and sunblock applied around the eyes should also be utilized.

AOA Recommendations

Less than 21% of parents report buying sunglasses for their tots before the age of 1, but children are exposed to UV radiation at even higher rates than adults.  Studies have shown 80% of that cumulative UV exposure we’ve talked about happens by the time we’re 20 years old!  So start protecting those eyes early!

Be safe and stylish this summer, and remember those perfect shades are for more than just looks.


1. Prevent Eye Damage: Protect Yourself From UV Radiation:
http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/doc/EPA_SW_FS_EyeDamage_v7_508_RELEASE.PDF
2. Overexposure to Sun’s Rays Can Cause Painful, Temporary Blindness. American Academy of Ophthalmology, June 2013.
3. Overlooking the Importance of UV Protection: Only 40 Percent of Americans Wear Sunglasses to Safeguard Vision. American Optometric Association, May 2013.
4. Protecting Your Eyes From Solar Radiation:
http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/uv-protection?sso=y
5. AOA: Statement on Ocular Ultraviolet Radiation Hazards in Sunlight
6. Drame, Kim. Your Summer Eye-Q. Huff Post: Healthy Living, July 2015..

HN Doctor’s Corner: Your Eyes & the Summer Sun