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The UV rays can damage your skin after prolonged exposure, so it helps to stay protected by covering yourself up properly and apply sunscreen for your skin. But UV rays don’t just damage unprotected skin; they can damage the eyes as well. The damage can also be more serious if you don’t wear protective eye gear or eyeglass frames that have UV protection.

It’s important to protect your eyes from the sun whether you’re at the beach or at higher altitudes where the air is thinner and the UV rays are stronger. Keep in mind that the longer you’re exposed to UV rays, the more likely you’ll experience serious eye conditions over time. This includes macular degeneration, cataracts, and even eyelid cancer.

That’s why the next time you’re swimming at the pool or beach this summer, don’t forget to bring protective eye gear for you and your family. Too much UV exposure can cause damage to your eyes and develop specific types of eye diseases. While you can’t just wear eyeglass frames while under the sun, there are other ways to avoid sun damage besides wearing protective gear. Our eye care experts at Excel Eyecare OD PA explain what you need to know:

UV Rays and Sun-Damage

UV (ultraviolet) rays come in three types: UVC, UVB, and UVA. While UVB rays are usually what causes the most significant damage to the eyes and skin, that doesn’t mean UVA and UVC rays won’t cause any more harm. 

  • UVA – These are one of the weakest rays of UV radiation and aren’t normally associated with major eye or skin problems. However, these UV rays can still pass through the cornea, with evidence suggesting it can also cause macular degeneration and cataracts to develop.
  • UVB – These rays are a bit weak but only because they’re partially filtered out by the ozone layer. They’re what creates a suntan, but being exposed in higher doses or for too long can cause several issues for your skin and eyes.
  • UVC – These rays are the strongest among the three types, but the earth’s ozone layer blocks out most of it. However, there is still a risk of exposure due to the depletion of the ozone layer.

Knowing the Symptoms

Your eyes getting sun-damaged won’t happen immediately. It won’t be obvious at first, but it will become more apparent as you keep exposing yourself to the sun without proper protection. A good tip to remember is that if you look anywhere near the sun and it makes your eyes hurt, then you’re overexposed. 

Eyes that are severely exposed to UV rays can get “sunburned” or what’s known as photokeratitis. This is an inflammation of the cornea, which is the clear covering of the front of your eyes. It can also cause temporary or permanent damage to the conjunctiva, lens, and retina of your eyes. Along with photokeratitis, if you have any of the following symptoms, we recommend getting eye health exams as soon as possible to prevent more damage.

  • Headaches
  • Tearing
  • Blurry Vision
  • Swelling
  • Discomfort/redness in the eyes
  • Seeing halos
  • Gritty feeling in the eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Temporary vision loss

Is the Damage Temporary or Permanent? 

This only depends on how long you were under the sun and how intense the exposure was. But if you’ve been exposed to UV rays for a certain amount of time and aren’t wearing protective eyewear, you’ll experience some of the symptoms mentioned above. But if you’re already starting to get some vision loss and it doesn’t improve after a few hours, you’ll need to get your eyes checked by a trusted specialist as soon as possible. 

Can Serious Eye Damage Be Reversible?

Since sun damage tends to happen to your eyes slowly over a long time, it’s important to get regular eye health exams to ensure your eyes stay as healthy as they can be. Eye damage due to overexposure from the sun such as photokeratitis can sometimes be temporary and recover on its own within 48 hours. 

However, proper treatment is still needed for sunburned eyes to reduce the symptoms and make them more bearable until they fully recover. Some types of eye damage can also be semi-permanent with the symptoms fading, but your eyes won’t fully recover. That’s why it’s important to wear sunglasses and a hat when you think you’ll be overexposed or stay exposed under the sun for a while. 

Treating Your Eye Damage

By all means, it’s always recommended to get your eyes checked by a trusted professional if you’re severely experiencing any of the symptoms we mentioned earlier. They’ll do a more thorough exam and give prescriptions on what type of pain relievers and eye drops you should take. But if you think you’re only experiencing mild symptoms, you can try out some of the in-home treatments to help relieve the pain.

If you have contact lenses on, they should be removed immediately for your eyes to heal faster. Use a cool compress over closed eyes while resting to help relieve the pain. If your eyes feel even just a bit itchy, resist the urge to rub them. This won’t provide you helpful relief and may even irritate them more. You can also try over-the-counter pain medication that’s meant for headaches! You should also keep your eyes lubricated with eye drops and keep them clear and clean at all times.

Preventing Overexposure

We’re more than a well-trusted eye care and lipiflow center. We’re fully committed to ensuring the satisfaction and comfort of each of our patients, especially in preventing future eye damage. And to reduce the risk of overexposure and permanent eye damage, it helps to understand the UV index to know how you can prepare yourself next time:

  • UV 2 or Lower – Consider sunscreen for your skin and wear sunglasses at all times.
  • UV 3 to 5 – Cover up, use sunscreen, and wear sunglasses. Also, try to avoid walking under the sun during noon, when it’s at its strongest.
  • UV 6 to 10 – Same guidelines as before, but you should also wear a hat. Don’t go under the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. if possible. 
  • UV 11 and Up – Wear sunglasses, cover-up, and wear/reapply sunscreen every two hours. Also, avoid going under the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. unless necessary.

As a well-known eye care center offering great lipiflow services, you can count on Excel Eyecare OD PA for professional eye care! Schedule an appointment by calling (980) 399-6071 or fill out our online contact form.