Florida is the sunshine state. That’s great for getting outdoors and on the water all year long.
But the summer months with more daylight hours bring the greatest amount of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation, particularly as rays reflect off water, cement and sand.
Consumers have become pretty savvy about protecting skin from sun exposure. Our eyes are also at risk of being harmed by prolonged exposure to UV light and we must take necessary precautions in order to avoid permanent damage. Just as sunscreen protects our skin and helps us avoid damaging skin conditions, sunglasses give our eyes protection from harmful overexposure to sunlight and help to prevent eye disease.
Studies have shown that long-term overexposure to UV rays without proper eye protection can cause a variety of conditions, such as cataracts, melanoma, skin cancer around the eyelids, macular degeneration, and small growths on the white of the eye, referred to as a pinguecula, which can progress into a pterygium that covers part of the cornea. These conditions are propelled by UV radiation and can often result in vision loss, requiring treatment or even surgery to repair the damage. According to the World Health Organization, 20 percent of cases of cataracts are likely caused by overexposure to UV radiation.
Sunlight overexposure can result in the development of photokeratitis, which is an inflammation of the cornea, and photoconjunctivitis, an inflammation of the conjunctiva. This inflammation causes the eyes to feel sunburned with painful symptoms, such as sensitivity to light, red eyes, excessive tearing and a gritty feeling in the eyes. While these symptoms are reversible and rarely cause permanent damage, it is important to protect your eyes with sunglasses.
“In Southwest Florida, sun overexposure is an ever-present danger to our eye health,” said Dr. E. Trevor Elmquist, founder of Elmquist Eye Group. “Make an effort to protect your eyes by wearing wide-brimmed hats, UV-blocking contact lenses and close-fitting, UV-blocking sunglasses that will protect your eyes and prevent long-term damage.”
Sunglasses makers do not always attach a tag or label stating the amount of UV radiation that sunglasses block. Only buy sunglasses that provide a clear statement about how much UV radiation is blocked.
According to the American Optometric Association, your sunglasses should:
- block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation
- screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
- have close-fitting frames to prevent exposure from the sides
- be perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection
- have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition.
Be aware that if you are at the beach or on the water, you should wear sunglasses with a darker tint to block more light. Your risk of eye damage from the sun is greater because of reflection off the water.
The risk of sun-related eye problems is higher for people who spend long hours in the sun, have had cataract surgery or have certain retina disorders, are on certain medicines, such as tetracycline, sulfa drugs, birth control pills, diuretics and tranquilizers that increase the eye’s sensitivity to light.
Follow these tips to protect your eyes from the sun all year long:
- Sun damage to eyes can occur anytime during the year, not just in the summertime, so be sure to wear UV-blocking sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats whenever you’re outside.
- Don’t be fooled by clouds: the sun’s rays can pass through haze and thin clouds.
- Never look directly at the sun. Looking directly at the sun at any time, including during an eclipse, can lead to solar retinopathy, which is damage to the eye’s retina from solar radiation.
- Don’t forget the kids and older family members: everyone is at risk.
If you are experiencing discomfort caused by overexposure to sunlight, it is important to speak to a doctor to discuss treatment options. Serving the Southwest Florida community for more than 25 years, Elmquist Eye Group offers experienced doctors who are dedicated to patient care. Dr. E. Trevor Elmquist, Dr. Kate Wagner, Dr. Sarah Eccles-Brown and Dr. Nina Burt of Elmquist Eye Group are available to answer your questions. With three U.S. military veterans leading the practice, rest assured knowing that Elmquist Eye Group’s team stands ready to serve you with knowledge and experience right here in Southwest Florida. Elmquist Eye Group encourages proper eye protection by offering a variety of UV-blocking products at its Optical Boutique locations in Fort Myers and Cape Coral, including designer optical lines like Costa, Oakley, Ray-Ban, Coach and more. For more information, visit www.Elmquist.com, call 239-936-2020 or stop by an Optical Boutique.