It’s summer and that means having fun in the sun! You may be cautious of sunburns on your skin, but have you heard of eyeburns? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared July UV Safety Month to educate people about the dangers of UV light during this time of year when the sun is strongest. No need to be concerned however as the key to protecting your eyes from UV light comes down to just a few easy steps.
UV damage to your eyes
When you break out the sunblock to protect your skin from sunburn, don’t forget to protect your corneas from getting burned as well. A severely burned cornea can cause temporary blindness. Consistent UV exposure can cause cumulative damage as well. Eye issues such as cataracts, eyelid skin cancer, and melanoma in the retina are all possible risks from sun-damaged eyes.
When to be careful
Most people know the sun’s rays are strongest during the summer, but there are other factors that determine UV strength.
- Latitude–The closer you are to the equator, the stronger the UV will be. There is less Ozone and atmosphere to filter the rays when the sun is more directly overhead.
- Time of Day–The sun is strongest at “solar noon” which can vary depending on your time zone. So to be safe, consider the sun strongest between the hours of 10am and 4pm.
- Ozone Level–The thicker the Ozone in an area, the more filtering it provides. There are some areas where the Ozone layer is thinned like Australia. If you plan on travelling abroad, check an Ozone map to see if the destination you’re going to is one of those areas.
- Altitude–If you’re vacationing in the mountains this summer, be aware that higher altitudes have a thinner atmosphere so more UV light can get through. With every 100 meters above sea level, UV radiation levels increase by 10 to 12%.
- Reflection–If you’re going to the beach or a lake on your vacation, be cautious of the sun’s reflection on the water and/or the sand. Sea foam can reflect UV by about 25% and dry sand about 15%.
- Weather–Just because it may look cloudy outside, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to take precautions against UV light. Even though UV radiation levels are highest under cloudless skies, up to 80% of solar UV radiation can penetrate light cloud cover.
How to protect your eyes
- Check the UV index of the day–When planning your activities, you can gauge how much sun protection you need by checking the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) UV index. It measures the daily intensity of UV rays on a scale of 1 to 11–1 requiring minimal protection and 11 requiring maximum protection.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat–Depending on the design, a hat can keep your face and eyes shaded at most angles.
- Wear (the Right Kind of) Sunglasses–They don’t have to be very dark or designer lenses. Just make sure they are rated to block at least 99% of both UVB and UVA rays and have a wraparound shape to protect from most angles.
- Wear UV blocking Contact lenses–Contacts with UV blockers can also help block harmful UV rays. Although not a substitute for sunglasses, they do offer supplemental protection. Some good examples of lenses are made with UV blockers are our Avaira® and clarity® 1 Day family contact lenses. Remember, UV blocking sunglasses is best paired with contact lenses.
Summer is for having fun! Follow these UV protection tips, go out and enjoy the sunshine in safety!
“Nothing in this article is to be construed as medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the recommendations of a medical professional. For specific questions, please see your eye care practitioner.”