Thanks to increased public awareness and education initiatives, we know that prolonged, unprotected exposure to the sun increases the risk of skin cancer. Less widely known, but just as important, is the damage sun exposure can do to our eyes. "Eye damage occurs gradually over a long period of time, so patients may not notice any changes until their condition has become severe," says Timothy Quinn, MD, St. Luke's ophthalmologist with
Miller Creek Medical Clinic and
Hibbing Family Medical Clinic. "The best way to protect your vision, and your health, is with regular eye exams by an experienced ophthalmologist who can diagnose and treat your condition."
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, spending hours in the sun without proper eye protection can cause a wide range of preventable eye disorders, including:
- Cataract: clouding of the eye's lens that can blur vision
- Photokeratitis (snow blindness): temporary but painful burn to the cornea caused by exposure to bright sunlight reflected off snow, water or concrete, or by exposure to artificial light sources such as tanning beds
- Pterygium: non-cancerous growth over the cornea that can partially block vision and may require surgery
- Skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma affecting the eyelids, corners of the eye, under the eyebrows and adjacent areas
- To reduce your risk of eye damage, Dr. Quinn recommends the following approach:
- Read the labels when shopping for sunglasses and choose a pair that blocks out 99-100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays (contact lens wearers should choose UV-blocking contacts)
- Wear sunglasses even on cloudy days to block UV rays reflected off sand, water, snow and pavement
- Increase protection with a wide-brimmed hat and wrap-around sunglasses
- Teach your children about the importance of protecting their eyes as well as their skin
If you or your family members haven't had an eye exam in the past two years, make time this summer to schedule an appointment with your ophthalmologist.