Fun in the Sun May Affect Your Eye Health

Outdoor activities are some of the best parts of summer, but when you head outside to enjoy the warmer weather, it may have an effect on the health of your eyes. You probably know to protect your skin from the sun, but may not always think to protect your vision, too. It’s important to be mindful of the potential dangers as you celebrate summer and all that goes with it. 

woman smiling in sunglasses and hat

If you’re planning an outing at the beach, pool or any summer activity that involves multiple hours in the sun, your eyes may be exposed to radiation. UV rays are known to cause sunburns, but can also lead to long-term damage to your eyes and vision.

“Exposure to ultraviolet radiation may contribute to the development of cataracts and macular degeneration, which can result in blindness,” said Dr. Scott Edmonds, vice president of UnitedHealthcare Vision. 

There are two types of UV rays that may cause eye problems: UV-A and UV-B. 

  • UV-A rays make up about 95 percent of UV radiation. UV-A rays are about 30-50 times more prevalent than UV-B rays, but they are also less intense. This type of ray can affect your central vision if it damages a part of the retina at the back of your eye. 
  • UV-B rays can cause more damage than UV-A rays and are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. from April to October. Your cornea and lens at the front of your eye absorb most UV-B rays. 

Even if you’re not bathing in the sun, your eyes can still be exposed to UV rays while participating in outdoor sports, like baseball or soccer. You may be focused on catching a pop fly, but many times you are looking directly at the sun. This may cause an “eye sunburn,” which may cause your eyes to feel gritty and painful.

“Too much exposure can contribute to skin cancer around the eyes and sight-threatening conditions,” Dr. Edmonds said.

Here are some quick tips to protect your eyes this summer: 

  • Wear polarized sunglassesBeyond being a great accessory, they can also help block out UV rays. When picking out the perfect pair, look for sunglasses that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation. Also make sure the lenses are large enough to completely cover your eyes. Some vision insurance, such as UnitedHealthcare’s “additional pair” package, enables people to purchase a second pair of prescription eyewear – including sunglasses – for their normal or reduced copay and coinsure depending on the plan design. Check with your vision plan to see if this applies to you.
  • Throw on a wide-brimmed hatNot only will this add some flare to your style, but it’ll also block about half of the UV rays. A brimmed hat helps to protect from the UV rays that sneak in from above or around your glasses. 
  • Don’t avoid natural sunlight. It’s important for people – especially children– to get outside and take a break from digital devices. Some studies show that natural light can promote healthy vision, especially among children and teens with developing eyes.

“More than 40 percent of Americans have nearsightedness (myopia), which is the inability to see far off objects clearly, and that percentage is growing,” Dr. Edmonds said. “This may be partly due to extending periods of close-up reading and screen time.”

Spending time outside may even be a protective factor against nearsightedness. But remember the tips above to protect your eyes from UV rays.