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Remember to Protect Your Eyes from the Sun

Woman protecting her eyes by wearing sunglasses.

When it comes to being out in the sun, many people remember to use sunscreen to protect their skin from ultraviolet (UV) light. However, they often don’t think about protecting their eyes. UV light can cause damage to several parts of the eye, explains Drexel Ophthalmologist Kelly A. Williamson, MD.

"Chronic UV light exposure to the conjunctiva, or clear coating over the white part of the eye, can result in whitish growths on the surface of the eye called pingueculae and pterygia," she says. "Strong exposure to reflected sunlight on snowy surfaces can result in ‘snow blindness,’ which is a type of photokeratitis that is similar to a sunburn on the cornea of the eye."

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Dr. Williamson adds, "Ultraviolet light is also suspected to be a risk factor for the development of cataracts and macular degeneration. And just like elsewhere on your skin, ultraviolet light can increase the risk of the development of different types of cancer of the eye, such as ocular melanoma."

So what can you do to protect your eyes? While many people recommend wearing a wide-brimmed hat to block the sun, Dr. Williamson says the best way to protect your eyes is to wear sunglasses that are rated "100% UV-blocking" or "400UV." UV-blocking contact lenses are also available.

Dr. Williamson notes that is important to remember that your eyes can be exposed to UV light any time of the year, including in cloudy conditions. Additionally, since damage from UV exposure starts at a very early age, it is recommended that even babies and young children wear sunglasses and hats when outside.

Finally, remember that ultraviolet light is strongest in the middle of the day, at high altitudes and around snow or water, which can reflect the light back upwards toward your eyes. If you have concerns about ultraviolet light exposure or other questions, make an appointment with your eye doctor for an examination and discussion of your options.

Related Physician

Kelly A. Williamson, MD

Kelly A. Williamson, MD
Title: Faculty
Practice: Drexel Eye Physicians
Specialty: Ophthalmology

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

The images being used are for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted is a model.

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