How Sun Exposure Damages Your Eye Anatomy

Submitted by Michael J. Elman, M.D. on May 12, 2023

You’re probably aware that too much sun exposure substantially increases the risk of developing skin cancer. What you may not realize is that sun exposure can also harm the structures of your eyes, resulting in potential vision loss. Elman Retina Group’s Dr. Michael Elman, Dr. Sidney “Sid” Schechet and Dr. David Dao discuss the damage sun exposure can wreak on your eye anatomy.

How Sun Exposure Damages Eyes

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are the culprit causing eye damage. In the earth’s atmosphere, UV light consists of two forms: UVA and UVB. The former penetrates more deeply into the body than the latter.

The eye’s front surface absorbs the overwhelming majority of UV rays. Excessive exposure leads to chronic conditions, most of which lead to vision loss.

Common Eye Conditions Cause by UV Light

UV sun exposure has a cumulative effect, so signs of overexposure don’t show up immediately, but the damage can appear years later. Long-term sun exposure can affect various eye structures. Common eye conditions caused or exacerbated by excessive exposure to UV light include:

  • Cataracts – This most common eye disease usually occurs in older people. Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s lens. Correction requires surgery.
  • Macular degeneration – Sun exposure is considered a risk factor for age-related macular degeneration, the major cause of blindness in older adults. Patients experience loss in their central or detail vision. While incurable, treatments can reduce the disease’s progression.
  • Photokeratitis – This condition is likened to a sunburn of the eyes. It may lead to temporary loss of vision.

UV light exposure increases the risk of developing cancers of the eye, including melanoma on the eyelid. It can also lead to the growth of benign but unsightly eye growths such as pingueculae or pterygia (the latter is sometimes referred to as “surfer’s eye”). These growths may affect vision and can disfigure the eye.

Preventing Sun Damage To Your Eyes

When outdoors, protect your eyes from harmful UV rays by wearing sunglasses and a hat. That’s the recommendation of the National Eye Institute, which advises choosing sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection that fit well and block light from coming in around the sides of the lenses. As for headgear, a broad-brimmed hat helps to shield your eyes and reduce glare.

Try to avoid going outside during peak hours when the sun’s rays are strongest. Schedule activities whenever possible in the morning before 10 a.m. or in the late afternoon after 4 p.m.

Stay away from tanning beds, tanning booths or sunlamps.

Schedule Your Eye Exam Today

Find out if your eyes have experienced sun damage with an eye exam performed by the experts at Elman Retina Group immediately. Please call or email us today to schedule your eye exam. In some cases, laser surgery and other therapies can improve eyesight damaged by sun exposure.