Protecting the Eyes from UV Damage

Many people remember to apply sunscreen to protect their skin from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays, but how many of us are aware of the damage that UV rays can have on our eyes?

Most of us love spending time in the sun. Public service campaigns have made most of us aware of the damage (premature aging, cancer) the sun can have on our skin. We take care to cover ourselves and our families in sunscreen.

What many people don’t realize is that UV rays also can harm our eyes.

In May of 2011, the Vision Council released the report “Hidden Dangers of UV: Keeping Your Eyes Safe.” The report stresses the importance of protecting the eyes and the skin that surrounds the eyes from the sun.

“From my years of professional experience, as well as from a painful episode of snow blindness I suffered as a teen-aged skier, I know all too well how much UV exposure can damage the eye,” said Scott MacGuffie, chairperson of the Sunglass and Reader Division of the Vision Council. “Sometimes the injury is short-lived, but too often it’s not. And too often it’s because someone was unaware of the risks.”

The Vision Council, along with Prevent Blindness America and Prevent Blindness Ohio, is trying to get the word out about the importance of protecting eyes from UV damage. “We want to help children and adults alike protect their eyes from solar radiation,” continued MacGuffie.

Earlier this year, these three vision groups voiced their support for the national “Don’t Fry Day,” the Friday before Memorial Day. Don’t Fry Day was created by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention to bring attention to the issue of sun exposure in an effort to help reduce the rising rates of skin cancer in the United States. The Vision Council, Prevent Blindness America and Prevent Blindness Ohio have ongoing commitments to help consumers stay safe in the sun.

Learning about UV

Prevent Blindness America, the nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization, has created the UV Learning Center, a Web site at http://www.preventblindness.org/uv, that offers free information on the dangers of UV, how to purchase the best sunglasses for adults and children and other related topics. In March of 2011, Prevent Blindness America released a white paper with support from the Transitions Healthy Sight for Life Fund titled, “UV and Our Nation’s Vision,” which brings national attention to the need for public education on the damaging effects of UV radiation to eyesight.

“We need to remember to protect our eyes from UV every day of the year,” said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America. “UV rays reflecting off the water, sand, pavement and even snow are extremely dangerous. We can encourage our children to wear the proper eye protection by leading by example.”

Wearing sunglasses or other eyewear that offer UV protection is the best way to shield the eyes from the sun.

Symptoms and Protection

Symptoms of a corneal sunburn usually will not appear until 6-12 hours after exposure, so you can can suffer a severe corneal sunburn and not realize it immediately.

According to the World Health Organization, children are more exposed to the sun than adults. Estimates suggest up to 80 percent of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV rays is received before the age of 18. The risk is greatest during midday hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and even during overcast days.

The best defense for everyone is to wear sunglasses that screen 99 to 100 percent of UV rays and brimmed hats. Brimmed hats alone will block about 50 percent of UV radiation. Ideally, all types of eyewear should absorb at least the full spectrum of UV rays including UV-A and UV-B. The degree of UV protection is not necessarily related to the price of the sunglasses.

“Prevent Blindness Ohio wants to make sure that Ohioans are aware of the need to protect their vision as well as their skin from overexposure to the sun,” said Sherry Williams, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness Ohio, an affiliate of Prevent Blindness America. “Along with sunscreen, hats and other protective gear, we want people to remember to wear UV-blocking sunglasses whenever they’re outside. Putting on sunglasses and applying sunscreen takes only a few minutes and helps avoid dangerous sunburns and future vision issues, such as cataracts or macular degeneration.”


Stacie Lehman is manager of special events and communications for Prevent Blindness Ohio, where she oversees statewide events and media outreach. In her role as communication manager, she coordinates all statewide communications, public and media relations. To view or download a copy of “The Hidden Dangers of UV: Keeping Your Eyes Safe” and a comprehensive list of sun-safe tips, visit http://www.thevisioncouncil.org/sunglasses. For additional UV information, contact Prevent Blindness Ohio at 800-301-2020 or visit http://www.pbohio.org.

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