Enjoy the Skies, Protect Your Eyes

By Rasa Valiauga

For decades now, Americans have been aware of the risk of sun damage and its association with skin cancer. Many companies and government agencies have been adamant about the use of sun screen and continuously reform guidelines to help consumers protect themselves. What has not been as frequently publicized is the danger of ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the eyes.

The most common risk for eyes associated with prolonged exposure to the sun is cataracts, which has a 17% prevalence in those over the age of forty in the United States. Cataracts involve clouding of the eyes and are the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Other pathologies linked to UV damage include macular degeneration (deterioration of light-sensing cells), pingueculae (yellow bumps on the white of the eye), pterygia (growth of fleshy tissue), photokeratitis (painful burning of the eyes), and even cancer. Although these conditions can take many years to evolve, the damage accumulates so it is important to take precautions every day to minimize the risk of developing these debilitating disorders.

While it is important to spend time outdoors for both mental and physical wellbeing, it is imperative to know the facts about sun damage and ways to protect yourself. The sun’s dangerous UV rays can penetrate through clouds and are just as damaging in the winter as in the summer. The most vital piece of equipment to guard yourself with is sunglasses that block both UV-A and UV-B rays, typically labeled as “100% UV protection” or “UW400.” The best styles to wear are ones that wrap around so that the rays cannot enter through the sides. It is important to note that even if you wear UV-blocking contact lenses, you should still be wearing sunglasses as the lenses do not block all the rays.

Additionally, wearing a broad-brimmed hat will offer extra protection. Avoiding the most intense UV conditions will assure you are getting the maximum benefits of the sun while minimizing the risks. Please visit http://sunburnmap.com/ to see the hourly UV index in your area and plan your day accordingly. Also, follow the guidelines below for the minimum protection to keep your eyes safe.

UV index

Photo Credit: McPherson Eye Research Institute, UW-Madison

RasaRasa Valiauga graduated with her B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has spent the last three years working in Dr. David Gamm’s laboratory studying retinal development and using stem cells to treat degenerative retinal diseases. She will be pursuing her MD/PhD at Loyola Stritch School of Medicine in the fall.


Heiting, Harry. “Ultraviolet Radiation and Protecting Our Eyes from UV Rays.” All About Vision, www.allaboutvision.com/sunglasses/spf.htm.

“The Sun, UV Radiation and Your Eyes.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 30 Mar. 2016, www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/sun.

“Summer UV Eye Safety.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 30 Mar. 2016, www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/summer-sun-eye-safety.

“Vision Problems in the U.S.” Glaucoma Prevalence Rates by State, 2012, www.visionproblemsus.org/cataract/cataract-map.html.


About NPHR Blog (339 Articles)
The is the blog of the Northwestern Public Health Review journal. The blog and journal are both student run and contain research articles, opinions, interviews and other content pertaining to public health.

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