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The Sun and Our Vision | Prevent Eye Damage from the Sun

By Wyatt Dilling on May 5, 2020 in Vision Health


Learn how to avoid eye damage from the sun to protect yourself and your family now and as you age.

When it comes to the sun, it isn’t always easy to see how it impacts our vision. Even when hiding behind clouds, the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays, can damage our eyes. The sun’s UV rays are the main cause of skin cancer, but they also cause sunburns, premature aging and eye damage.

It’s important to protect ourselves from the sun all year long, not just during the summer months. Sunlight can be even more damaging when it’s reflected off sand, snow, water and ice.

So, how can you protect your eyes from the sun? It’s simple! Use sunglasses or glasses with UV-blocking lenses and wear a wide-brimmed hat when outside. Also, don’t forget to slather on the sunscreen to protect your skin, including the area surrounding your eyes. 

If you don’t take precautions, eye damage from the sun can lead to vision problems such as:

  • Corneal sunburn: Did you know your eyes can get sunburned? Corneal sunburns, also known as photokeratitis, can cause pain, blurred vision, swelling, headache, tearing, and more. A vision doctor most often diagnoses a corneal sunburn by asking about your recent activities. 
  • Cataracts: Our eyes have a natural lens and when that lens becomes cloudy it’s known as a cataract. This can cause double vision, light sensitivity and bright colors to appear faded. Aging and exposure to UV light without eye protection can cause cataracts to develop.
  • Cancer: The exact cause of most eye cancers is still being researched, but we do know the links between eye cancer, other health conditions and lifestyle choices. Researchers theorize that too much exposure to sunlight is a risk factor for uveal or conjunctival melanoma of the eye. Additionally, race/ethnicity, eye color, age, gender, genetics, and family history are all risk factors for eye cancer. Learn more about eye cancer at cancer.org. Use sunscreen and sunglasses to help limit exposure to harmful UV rays.
  • Macular degeneration: The macula is a part of the retina at the back of our eye. When you experience high sun exposure, your risk for macular degeneration increases. Macular degeneration occurs when the macula is damaged leading to blurry and deteriorated vision, which can develop rapidly or over time as we age.
  • Growths on the eye (pterygium): Ultraviolet radiation, sometimes in combination with the wind, can cause pterygium to develop. Also known as surfer’s eye, a pterygium is a benign raised bump on the eyeball that can cause discomfort and blurred vision. They are most commonly seen on 30- to 50-year-olds and are rarely seen in children. Though benign, they can cause a burning feeling or the sensation that something is trapped in the eye, also known as pinguecula.

Eye conditions can become complicated, but protecting our eyes is easy. Wear a hat and sunglasses outside and make sure your kids do the same! If you have a concern about your vision, click here to find a Optometrist near you.

Looking for more on protecting your vision? Check out: 

*Updated August 2021