You rush out the door because you’re late for work, and as soon as you pull out of the driveway you notice you’ve forgotten your sunglasses. Oh well, you think, it’s no big deal.
Sure, heading outside once in while without your sunnies isn’t the worst thing for your health, but if it becomes a regular habit, it could mean trouble for your precious eyeballs. That’s because those slick shades are much more than a fashion statement: They protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays.
Too much sun exposure can cause short- and long-term eye damage. This is especially true during the summer months, when the level of UVA and UVB rays are three times higher. (Still, it’s wise to protect your eyes year-round.)
If you skip out on wearing your sunnies, the sun’s rays can cause:
Eye sunburn. Yes, it’s a thing—and it’s just as fun as a skin sunburn. Eye sunburn, also known as photokeratitis or snow blindness, can cause burning, tearing, redness, and blurry vision.
Eye sunburn is often caused by sun reflection from water, sand, ice, or snow, or if you stare at the sun or watch the solar eclipse without using special eye protection. It can also be caused by man-made devices, such as tanning beds.
Eye sunburn usually goes away on its own, so treatment is often focused on helping your eyes feel better.
Cataracts. Too much sun exposure can cause cataracts, which is a condition where your eye lens becomes cloudy, like you’re looking through smudged glasses or a dusty windshield. Other symptoms of cataracts include seeing double, light sensitivity, trouble seeing at night, and seeing colors that are less vivid.
Treatment for cataracts may be prescription eyewear, or if it’s significantly affecting your quality of life, surgery.
Macular degeneration. Macular degeneration results from damage to part of the retina (the macula), and is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. Macular degeneration causes you to lose your central vision meaning you can’t see fine details, but your peripheral vision stays normal. Most cases of macular degeneration are age-related, but too much sun exposure to the eyes can increase your risk.
There is no cure for macular degeneration, but some treatments, like taking vitamins or medication, or having surgery, may help slow the progression of the condition or even improve vision. (Here are the vitamins recommended to lower the risk of macular degeneration.)
Pterygium. Pterygium, also knowns as surfer’s eye, is a painless growth of tissue on the eyeball that can affect its shape. This can cause an astigmatism, which can blur the vision.
Treatment isn’t usually necessary, but if it’s bothering you, eye drops or surgery can help.
Searching for your sunglasses yet? We thought so. To protect your eyes, be sure to pick the appropriate sunglasses that block out 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Even better, wear a wide-brim hat too.