Residents of the Pacific Northwest often joke that summer doesn’t officially arrive until July 5. While days can be gloomy in May or June, ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun still poses a threat to your eyes this time of year. Clouds and haze don’t block the harmful effects of UV light, whose levels are three times higher in the summer months.
Too much exposure to UV light can raise your risk of a number of eye problems, including cataracts, painful corneal sunburn, growths on the eye (called pterygia) and skin cancer around the eye. The threat is compounded if you are continually out in the mid-day sun, at higher altitudes or along the water, where reflective surfaces intensify the sun’s hurtful rays.
May is UV Awareness Month and eye care organizations such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology and American Optometric Association have launched public education campaigns to raise awareness about protecting eyes from sun damage.
Here are a few eye healthy tips to keep in mind as we approach the summer season:
- Everyone who is outside is at risk, no matter their eye color, skin tone or age. Your best protection is wearing a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses that block 99 percent of UV-B and UV-A rays. Try to find sunglasses that cover your eyelids, lashes and the white part of your eye.
- Keep in mind that some polarized or adaptive lenses (such as Transitions® lenses) don’t always block the full spectrum of UV rays. Although contact lenses and intraocular lens implants may offer some UV protection, sunglasses are still recommended.
- Babies and children especially need to don sunglasses and hats. Unlike adults, little ones aren’t able to shade their eyes and because their pupils are bigger, are more vulnerable to the sun’s damaging rays. Protective gear will help them avoid serious eye problems from a lifetime of sun exposure.
Derek Louie, M.Sc., O.D., is assistant professor of ophthalmology at OHSU Casey Eye Institute. A fellow of the American Academy of Optometry, he specializes in adult eye care with a special interest in medical contact lenses for patients with disorders of the cornea or other eye conditions. When not seeing patients, he enjoys exploring the cuisines of Portland’s neighborhood restaurants and playing soccer (out of the sun) at indoor arenas several evenings a week.