May is Ultraviolet Awareness Month, so we are turning out sights to the light. We don’t often think about ultraviolet light and how it may affect our overall health and wellness. We do, however, tend to enjoy our fair share of the UV. Even on cloudy days, of which we get very few, ultraviolet light shines through the haze to reach our skin. Where UV light can reach the skin, it can also enter the eyes. This is important to know because, like we want to protect the skin from the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays, we also need to protect our eyes.
You may be relatively strict about applying sunscreen to your skin because you know sunlight can cause a nasty sunburn. Did you also know that the same rays that tan and burn your skin can also burn the corneas of your eyes? Corneal sunburn is often a result of intensified light. For example, people who ski without proper sunglasses may come home from their vacation with a painful corneal burn. We don’t do much skiing around here, but we do spend time on the water and, just like snow, water intensifies light through reflection.
It’s easy to see how corneal sunburn can be prevented, right? If you work outdoors or visit the beach or work in your garden, you should do so with a good pair of sunglasses. Adequate sunglasses shield your eyes no less than 99% of ultraviolet light. Read the label! If sunglasses do not block this amount of light, or 100% of it, choose a different pair. By wearing sunglasses, you aren’t just minimizing the risk of burn; you’re also promoting better long-term eye health. Sun exposure has been linked to an increased risk of cataracts as well as cancer.
Speaking of That
Sunglasses provide one layer of protection against damaging effects from UV exposure. Another layer needs to come from sunscreen. However, research suggests that we don’t apply sunscreen as we should. A study at the University of Liverpool discovered that most people do not apply sunscreen to the eyelid region. This includes the bridge of the nose and the eyelids themselves. We can see why, but also need to look at the risk that arises without sunscreen. With as many as 10% of skin cancer cases occurring on the eyelid, we see good reason to use sunscreen here. If you’re worried about getting lotion in your eyes, consider a sunscreen stick as an alternative form of application.
It is good news that our long-term eye health is something we can manage with healthy choices. To make the healthy choice of having your eyes examined and to learn more about UV awareness, call our Wailuku or Kihei office.