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Summertime is all about long days at the beach, picnics in the park, and backyard barbeques. But as much as we love being out in the sun, it is important to remember that the sun can harm us if we don’t take the necessary precautions. We all know that we should be using sunscreen to protect our skin from sunburn, but we sometimes forget about protecting our eyes, as well.

What Makes Sunlight Potentially Harmful?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the component of sunlight responsible for causing harm to our bodies. UV rays possess a large amount of energy that, when we expose ourselves to it, damages the cells of our bodies. Two organs that are most vulnerable to UV radiation are the skin and the eyes.

What Are The Harmful Effects of UV Radiation?

Short-term exposure to high levels of UV radiation can burn the eyes, just as it can burn the skin. This is known as photokeratitis, and it can be very uncomfortable. UV exposure also has cumulative effects, meaning that even short periods of exposure over time can lead to long-term health problems. For the eyes, this means increased risk of developing cataracts, macular degeneration, pterygiums, wrinkles, and the formation of cancerous growths on the eye.

Who Is Most At Risk?

Since children spend more time outdoors than the average adult, they are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of UV radiation. Approximately 80 per cent of lifetime sun exposure happens before the age of 18. This means that preventing future health problems for your children starts with protecting them from UV light when they are young.

Here are some tips that will keep your children safe in the sun:

  • Make sure children always have sun protection such as sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors.
  • Teach your child never to stare or look directly at the sun.
  • Learn how to interpret the UV Index and keep your children out of the sun when the risk of harm is ‘high,’ ‘very high,’ or ‘extreme.’
  • Avoid sun exposure for children younger than six months old. When outdoors, use a canopy or umbrella to block direct sun exposure.
  • Remember that clouds do not block UV light, so sun protection is important every day and all year round, not just during the summer.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

A great way to protect the eyes from the sun is wearing good quality sunglasses that block 100 per cent of UVA and UVB rays. By blocking the UV radiation, the eyes, and the skin around the eyes, are protected from damage.

For those lucky enough not to need prescription eyeglasses, over-the-counter sunglasses work. Choose sunglasses that have a close fitting wrap-around style to block the sun’s rays from entering through the sides.

If you require prescription glasses, an eye doctor can make you prescription sunglasses so that you may conveniently enjoy the benefits of clear vision while protecting your eyes.

Additional sun-protection options for those who wear prescription glasses is to select frames that come with clip-on sunglasses, or to purchase lenses with Transition technology. Clip-ons are shaded lenses that can be placed on top of your clear lenses and removed at will. Transition lenses tint automatically when exposed to UV light, and are clear indoors.

Many contact lens brands also have UV protection. These contact lenses are not tinted as are sunglasses, yet they still prevent most of the UV light from entering the eyes. These lenses act as an extra layer of protection, but sunglasses should still be worn over top to protect the skin around the eyes.

Visit your optometrist this summer to learn more about the harmful effects of UV light on eyes and vision. He or she can make recommendations to ensure that you and your family safely take full advantage of the beautiful summer weather.
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Dr. Ly received her Honours Bachelors of Science from the University of Toronto, graduating with high distinction. She then went on to complete her Doctor of Optometry degree at the University of Waterloo where she graduated on the Dean’s honour list. She recently joined the Isight Eye Care team and is accepting new patients.