UV rays are damaging
Just as the sun can injure your skin, it can hurt the delicate tissue of your eyes, too. Long-term exposure to UVA and UVB rays contributes to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Cataracts, cloudy areas on your eye’s lens, can be corrected with surgery; there is no effective treatment for macular degeneration, and it can lead to blindness.
Did you know you can also get melanoma of the eye? Unprotected UV exposure from the sun or tanning beds increases the risk of this type of cancer. And, of course, squinting against the sun’s glare can lead to wrinkles around the eyes.
First aid tips for eye sunburn
In the short term, your eyes can get sunburned just like your skin, especially if there is a lot of glare from the water, sand or pavement. If your eyes are red, swollen, and feel gritty, you probably have a sunburn.
First aid do’s:
- Get out of the sun.
- Apply cool compresses, such as a washcloth soaked in cold water, for 15 minutes every hour, until the discomfort lessens.
- Use eye drops, preferably without the preservative benzalkonium chloride (BAK), which causes irritation. Related post: The eyes have it
- Take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) as directed for pain.
- Rest your eyes—take a break from your computer, TV and cell phone. Long periods on these devices dries out your eyes and slows the healing process. Related post: Eye Trainer: An app for eyestrain
First aid don’ts:
- Do not use Visine to get the red out! It contains a decongestant that constricts the tiny blood vessels in your eyes and increases the irritation and discomfort.
- Do not apply ice packs directly to your eyes.
- Do not wear contact lenses until your eyes heal.
Related post: First aid for sunburns
Block out those rays
Hats and sunglasses are your best protection against the sun’s damaging rays. Wear hats with a wide brim that blocks out light from the sides as well as from above. Buy sunglasses that specifically say they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Read the labels! Look for a label that claims:
- “blocks 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays” or
- “absorbs up to 400 nm of UV radiation” or
- “UV 400”
Do not buy sunglasses that simply say “absorbs UV” or “blocks the sun.” The color or darkness of the lens does not matter. Neither does the cost. Good, protective sunglasses do not need to be expensive. Buy what your budget and fashion sense allow.
Polarized lenses do not block UV rays, but they mitigate glare, which is useful when on the water. 😎
Childrens’ eyes are particularly sensitive to the sun! Make sure they wear a hat and protective sunglasses, as well.
Measuring the sun’s harmful rays
Knowing exactly how damaging the sun’s rays are throughout the day is a real incentive to protect yourself. Last year, I put the Environmental Protection Agency’s UV Index app on my phone (it’s free!), and have used it ever since.
The UV index is a measurement of the strength—the damaging effect—of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. A zero rating is very low, while a rating greater than 8 is very high. It reminds me that even on a cloudy day (and we have plenty of those here in Seattle) the sun’s UV rays can be at an extreme level. As a result, I have been much more diligent about using sunscreen, wearing a hat and wearing sunglasses.
Our eyes are amazing pieces of equipment! An inexpensive hat and pair of shades are all you and your kids need to keep your peepers safe and working well. Enjoy the sun!