Florida’s natural amenities offer endless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and get out on the water all year long. But the summer months with more daylight hours bring the greatest risk for the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation, particularly as rays reflect off water, cement and sand.
Protecting the skin from sun exposure is a common practice among consumers, however, we must also take necessary precautions for our eyes in order to avoid permanent eye damage from UV light.
“Sun overexposure is an ever-present danger to our eye health, especially for those in sunny regions like Southwest Florida,” said Dr. Kate Wagner of Elmquist Eye Group. “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 serious eye conditions.”
Mild sunlight overexposure can result in temporary conditions including photokeratitis (inflammation of the cornea, like a sunburn) and photoconjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva). This inflammation causes the eyes to feel sunburned with painful symptoms such as sensitivity to light, redness, excessive tearing and a gritty feeling. While the symptoms are reversible and rarely cause permanent damage, they can be painful. Certain topical medications may be prescribed to ease symptoms.
Prolonged UV exposure may build up over time, with damaging effects leading to more serious conditions that are harder to reverse. Studies have shown that long-term overexposure to UV rays without proper eye protection can cause a variety of serious conditions, such as cataracts, melanoma, skin cancer around the eyelids, macular degeneration, as well as 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.
“Consistent use of UV protection should be practiced year-round, regardless of the weather,” Wagner adds. “To lower your risk of developing serious conditions, limit sun exposure and always wear protective eyewear such as UV-blocking contact lenses and close-fitting, UV-blocking sunglasses.”
Not all sunglasses are equal, and manufacturer labels do not always state the amount of UV protection. Only buy sunglasses that clearly state 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.
UV damage can affect people of any age. The risk is higher for those who spend extended hours in the sun, have had cataract surgery, have certain retina disorders, or are on medications that increase sensitivity to light, like certain antibiotics, birth control pills, diuretics and tranquilizers.
Follow these tips to protect your eyes from the sun all year long:
• Wear UV-blocking sunglasses. Sun damage can occur anytime, not just in the summer. Wear sunglasses whenever you’re outside – even if it’s just for a few minutes.
• Wear a broad-brimmed hat. A hat can provide extra protection from the sun’s rays.
• Limit outdoor time, especially when the sun is at its strongest between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• Wear protection during sports. In addition to helping protect your eyes from injury, many sports glasses and goggles offer a UV coating.
• 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.
• Everyone is at risk. Don’t forget sun protection for children and older family members.
If you have concerns about your vision, it is important to speak to a doctor to discuss treatment options. With more than 25 years of service to the Southwest Florida community, 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, Elmquist Eye Group’s team stands ready to serve you 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 location in Fort Myers or Cape Coral.
7970 Summerlin Lakes Dr.
2336 Surfside Blvd., Suite 121