Protecting your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is just as important as putting on sunscreen to protect your skin. Infants and young children are especially vulnerable to UV radiation. Many age-related eye diseases may be partially caused by the cumulative effects of UV exposure throughout life.

Did you know that bees and some other insects can see UV light? It reveals a wider range of colour patterns and guides them to the nectar in flowers. We may not be able to see UV light, but it is absorbed by the tissues of our eyes and it can lead to serious eye damage. Because exposure to UV is cumulative, direct contact with sunlight for even short periods of time can cause conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, photokeratitis (sunburn of the cornea), pingueculae (small yellowish bumps on the white of the eye), or pterygium (opaque growth over the surface of the cornea). Children are at greater risk because they spend more time outdoors than the average adult, and the lenses in their eyes have less capability to filter UV.

Short-term effects of UV exposure can result in a condition known as photokeratitis, which is like having a sunburn on the eye. Symptoms include pain, redness, and blurred vision. Photokeratitis is treated with artificial tears and usually takes 24 to 72 hours to resolve.

Many long-term problems that can be caused by UV exposure, such as cataracts, macular degeneration and melanomas, are initially symptom free. These eye diseases only show symptoms when the condition is advanced, and by that time it can be difficult or even impossible to treat.

Protect Your Eyes

Here are a few things you can do to protect your eyes from the sun:

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap.
  • Ask for a clear, UV-blocking coating on the lenses of your glasses.
  • Wear sunglasses or prescription sunglasses. Permanently tinted glasses, or photochromic lenses which get darker with increased UV intensity, offer UV protection while also reducing glare and brightness.
  • Attach clip-on sunglass lenses to your regular glasses, or use large sunglasses that fit over your regular glasses.
  • Wear contact lenses that include UV protection.

Tinted lenses do not necessarily block UV light, so it's important to ensure your lenses provide 100% UVA and UVB protection.