Protect Your Eyes Year-Round
We all know how important it is to protect your skin against over-exposure to the sun. But it is equally important to have sun protection for your eyes. Prolonged sun exposure can be extremely harmful to the eyes, especially in the summer when we tend to spend more time outdoors. Sun damage is cumulative and over time UV radiation can cause macular degeneration, eyelid cancer, growths on the eye’s surface, and more.
Cataracts are the most common eye problem. According to Prevent Blindness America (PBA), more than 22 million Americans are affected by cataracts, which cause cloudy vision, a hard time seeing at night, sensitivity to light, and double vision. And although not as common as cataracts, melanoma can also occur in the eye after prolonged UV exposure.
Unfortunately, lack of awareness of the risks associated with not protecting your eyes is a problem. Some studies show that as little as 1 in 6 people say that eye health is the reason for wearing sunglasses. The majority believe that sunglasses are best for cutting glare. Even if we’re aware of potential eye health problems, the summer activities we all enjoy can heighten our risks in ways we don’t expect. For example:
Hiking: Did you know that there is more UV radiation at higher altitudes? UV radiation jumps by 4% for every 1,000 feet of elevation. For instance, hiking Mount McKinley in Alaska exposes you to about 78% more UV radiation compared to taking a walk at sea level.
Water sports: Reflected light off the surface of the water can be equally or more harmful than direct sunlight. Meanwhile, sand at the beach reflects up to 25% of the UV radiation.
Outdoor activities/sports: If you are playing basketball, street hockey or tennis, be aware of the pavement. When the sun hits concrete, the concrete can reflect up to 25% of the UV radiation.
Protecting Your Eyes
Fortunately, there are ways to protect your eyes and still enjoy the outdoors. Most importantly, wear sunglasses.
When choosing sunglasses look for the following:
- A label that offers 100% UVA/UVB protection.
- The right color of lens. Gray, copper, and brown lenses help reduce bright light conditions, so they are ideal for baseball, cycling, running, golf, and water sports. Rose and amber lenses are better for low light conditions, like hiking in the woods
- Polarized lenses. Although they don't offer UVA/UVB protection, they can cut down on glare, which puts less strain on the eyes. These are great for water activities and driving.
- Large wrap-around styles. Studies show that small frames allow so much light to enter the eye from other angles, that it can negate some of the benefits of UV-protective lenses.
Aside from sunglasses, lifestyle and daily habits can play a hand in protecting your eyes.
Exercise: Research has shown that regular, vigorous physical exercise may lower the risk of vision loss and help preserve eyesight.
Stop bad habits: Smoking can double our risks of some kinds of vision loss. Heavy drinking has also been linked to some forms of eye disease, including early age-related macular degeneration.
Check the forecast: Limit time in the sun when the UV index is at 3 or higher.
Take supplements: Talk to a healthcare practitioner about the following nutrients, which all have shown to be beneficial for maintaining healthy eyes:
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is necessary to produce collagen, a structural protein that supports bone, skin, connective tissue and tendons. In the eye, the cornea and sclera (front of the eye) contain high amounts of collagen. Supporting collagen in the eye can reduce the risk of developing cataracts and slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration.
- Vitamin E: The most notable benefit for eye health is vitamin E’s role as an antioxidant. Diets high in vitamin E can help reduce oxidative stress, preventing eye disease. In particular, some studies suggest vitamin E can lower the risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids produced by plants. They give fruits and vegetables a yellow or reddish hue. Carotenoids also help the macula and retina help filter blue light to prevent damage. They can also help prevent multiple eye problems, including cataracts, UV damage and dry eye. Lutein can help to slow the progression of macular degeneration, which can lead to vision impairment and blindness.
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