Your Eyes and Sun Damage

Bright light
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As spring and summer months approach, most of us are outside enjoying the weather. Especially during summertime, people are quick to grab the sunscreen in order to protect their skin. However, not all of us are as good at protecting our eyes as we are our skin. High quality sunglasses with ultraviolet protection are of high priority for us all.

We are all susceptible to UV damage. But did you know that certain individuals are at much higher risk for eye sun damage than others?

Children: Eighty percent of all UV damage that we experience in our lifetime occurs before the age of 18. As adults, we are pretty good at remembering to grab our sunglasses when doing outside activities. However, we sometimes forget to protect our children’s eyes. Children tend to spend more time outdoors than adults. Studies may one day find that some of the eye diseases we experience as we grow older may well be instigated by too much sun exposure when we were children. Also, children sometimes haven’t yet developed some of the properties that protect against UV damage to the  eyes and skin that we have developed as adults. The natural lens inside our eyes has not yet developed some of its UV blocking properties. The message: protect your children’s eyes by limiting sun exposure and purchasing high quality sun wear.

People who have had cataract surgery: Millions of Americans undergo uneventful cataract surgery every year.

Cataract surgery is performed when the lens inside our eyes becomes cloudy and opacified to a degree where light cannot properly be focused onto our retina and vision becomes very blurred. Cataracts are usually brought on by the aging process but younger people can also develop cataracts due to taking certain medications, having certain systemic diseases, or having a family history of developing early cataracts.

When we have cataract surgery our natural lens is removed and replaced with an intraocular lens implant. Nowadays, most manufacturers build in inherent UV protection into their intraocular lenses. However, some of the older intraocular implants did not have good UV protection. As a result, these patients should be wearing a wide brimmed hat and UV blocking sunglasses when they spend time in the sun.

People taking photosensitizing drugs: Photosensitizing drugs are prescribed for certain medical indications but one of their side effects is that they can make a person light sensitive and cause the retina to be more susceptible to sun damage. Studies show that only about 50% of people taking photosensitizing drugs understand that they can cause photosensitivity. Did you know that even over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) can make some individuals light sensitive? Talk to your doctor if you will be taking these drugs for long periods of time and ask what precautions you should take.

Drugs that are known to be photosensitizing drugs include the following:

  • Birth control and estrogen pills
  • Phenothiazine (anti-malaria medication)
  • Certain antibiotics such as tetracycline
  • Psoralens for treating psoriasis

People with light colored eyes: Light colored eyes are more commonly light sensitive. They also put an individual at higher risk for eye disease caused by not having more protective pigment in the retina. Although rare, melanoma of the iris and retina is more common in people with light colored eyes. Also, having light colored eyes puts you at higher risk for developing macular degeneration.

Source:  Positive Interaction Between Light Iris Color and Ultraviolet Radiation in Relation, Ophthalmology. 2009 Feb;116(2):340-8.

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