Vision Health – Taking a Serious Look at Your Eye Health for Summer


Spring, with its warm weather and sunshine, beckons us all outside. The warmth of the sun may be a reminder that, as the season shifts, you need to stock up on sunscreen. Don’t forget another important part of the season: protecting your eyes from the sun. The same UV rays that can cause sunburn and skin cancer are also hazardous to the health of your eyes. Squinting through sunny days risks damage to your eyes and increases your chances of certain eye conditions.

Seven Common Types of Eye Health Issues:

The Sun and Your Eyes

Your eyes, like your skin, need protection from the sun’s powerful ultraviolet or UV rays. These rays, invisible to our eyes, pass through the earth’s atmosphere and are absorbed by the lenses of your eyes. Scientists caution against the way UV rays change the structure of the tissues within the eyes. The sun damages the eye simply with its rays or by triggering reactions that damage the eye. The eyes change the UV rays into heat, which leads to damage to the eyes. The UV rays also speed along the eye deterioration with age and oxidative damage.  Overexposure to sunshine leads to a range of short-term and long-term conditions.

Eye Conditions Linked to Sun Exposure

Everyone’s eyes degenerate over time and certain genes give you a predisposition to eye disease or conditions. However, exposure to the sun can change your chances of developing the following eye conditions or make it more likely you develop them earlier in life. Studies have shown that sun exposure has a significant impact on eye health. Research shows that areas of the eye exposed to the sun are the strongest predictors of the location of cataracts or other eye damage. While some of these conditions are often primarily linked to age, the sun is another significant factor: one which we can control.


Although a common result of aging, cataracts are an eye condition that can be either caused or sped along by sun exposure. Studies found that all of the factors necessary for developing cataracts could be replicated through sun exposure. One study looked at two populations living at the same latitude, but one in a rainy, cloudy climate and the other with much more sunshine. The population with more sunshine had a much higher rate of cataracts. Other studies found that the position of cataracts could be predicted and correlated to eye exposure.  While cataract surgery is a much safer, easier procedure than ever before, 50 percent of blindness worldwide is because of cataracts. Simply taking care of your eyes, and protecting them from the sun can help lower your chances of cataracts.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Although the name implies that age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is simply a matter of age and does not have to do with the sun, research finds otherwise. Studies suggest a connection between sun exposure and AMD. In the developed world, AMD is the leading cause of blindness. In the U.S., over 10 million people each year are diagnosed with this disease. A risk factor for AMD is sun exposure. Studies have linked outdoor work and sun exposure at work with a greater likelihood for developing AMD.

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The skin immediately surrounding your eye is also at risk for cancer just like other skin exposed to the sun. Most people avoid applying sunscreen to the area around their eyes because most sunscreens will irritate your eyes and the sensitive skin surrounding your eyes. However, your eyelids are at risk of developing skin cancer. Sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat will protect your eyelids from cancer.

Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye)

In areas that experience extreme levels of sunshine, the risk of eye damage increases. In Australia, for example, a condition called pterygium is much more common. One in 100 Australians has this eye condition. People with this condition develop a fleshy, wing-shaped overgrowth in the corner of their eye, usually the corner near their nose. Left untreated, pterygium may continue to develop until it causes blurry vision and loss of vision as the growth covers the pupil. Exposure to sunshine is the strongest predictor of developing this eye condition. Living in certain areas of the world, spending more than 5 hours outside per day, or working outside are all risk factors for developing this eye condition.

The sun has a powerful effect on your eyes. Its UV rays can cause damage to your cornea, lens, and retina. Long-term conditions, such as cataracts and macular degeneration, are affected by sun exposure. It also can cause temporary blindness (keratopathy), especially common with prolonged exposure in a snow-covered environment. Being in the sun a lot can lead to growths on your eye, some simply an irritation (pinguecula) and others that can lead to changes in your vision (pterygium).

The Best Offense is a Good Defense

Such a simple strategy can make a difference for your long-term eye health: wear sunglasses. Protect your eyes from the sun. Make sure you choose sunglasses that block 99% or 100% of UV rays. They need to do more than make it less bright outside. The invisible UV rays from the sun do the most damage to your eyes. Sunglasses that wrap around your face or ones that do not leave large gaps between your face or the sides of your face are the best choice. If sunglasses get in the way of your work or activity, a brimmed hat will also help keep your eyes safe from UV rays. A brimmed hat will both protect you from the sun and allow you to see well, even in bright sunlight. You can also stay out of the sun during peak periods of sun strength, typically between 10 am and 4 pm. Taking these simple precautions will help protect your eyes, keeping them healthier for longer.

4 Things Influencing Your Risk for Sun Damage

Your risk of eye damage from UV rays goes up based on a few factors.

  • Time of Day: When the sun is high and strong in the sky, your eyes are most at risk. The highest threat is between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., but it is a good idea to be careful from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You also need to be careful at other times of day when the sun is at an angle to directly hit your eyes.
  • Season: Summer is typically the season when our eyes are most exposed to the sun. We usually spend more time outside, and the earth is closer to the sun. Both spring and autumn pose significant risks to eyes, though. Winter can be surprisingly dangerous, though, as snow cover reflects sunlight into our eyes.
  • Hemisphere: The southern hemisphere is closer to the sun, and more UV rays pierce the atmosphere to reach the southern hemisphere. According to some studies, the southern hemisphere gets between 11 and 14 percent more UV rays. Keep this in mind if you live or travel south of the equator.
  • Cloud Cover: While UV rays do travel through clouds, clouds do block some rays. Cloudier areas tend to see less cataracts and other sun-related eye conditions.
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Feed Your Eyes’ Health

Protecting your eyes from the sun during the summer is an important way to protect your eyes from damage. However, your eyes also need proper nutrition to maintain health and longevity. What you eat greatly affects your yes. Diets that are high in refined sugars, fatty foods, refined carbohydrates, and cholesterol lead to a deterioration of eye health. One of the risk factors for developing eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration is not eating enough leafy greens. As with the rest of your body, when you eat food low in vitamins and nutrients, your eyes suffer.

Instead, scientists recommend diets high in fish, fruits, and vegetables, particularly ones that are high in these vitamins and nutrients.

Omega-3 fatty acids – Your eyes contain a high concentration of polyunsaturated fats. It makes sense that eating enough omega-3 fatty acids is necessary for maintaining a healthy level of those fats in your eyes. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, as well, helping lower risk of disease within your body. Cold-water fish is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but you can also get them through flax seeds, walnuts, and chia seeds.

Lutein and zeaxanthin – These carotenoids found in the coloring of leafy greens and in many other vegetables, such as broccoli and peas, are key for eye health and protecting against disease and damage. Lutein and zeaxanthin compose parts of the retinas of your eyes, so continuing to supply these is essential for your eyes’ health. Studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin can slow AMD’s progression and prevent new cataracts, allowing for healthier vision for longer.

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Vitamin A – You may have been told as a child to eat your carrots because they’re good for your eyes. While my childhood misconception that eating carrots would help me see farther does not prove true, carrots do contain an important vitamin for eye health: vitamin A. The surface of your eye needs vitamin A to remain healthy, produce enough tears, and protect itself from damage. Vitamin A is also key for the eye’s ability to process information into pictures. Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A, but sweet potatoes are even better. Certain orange fruits are also good sources of vitamin A, like cantaloupe and apricot.

Vitamin C – Vitamin C performs all sorts of actions necessary for the health of your eye. One of its functions is to support and amplify the jobs of other antioxidants. It gives lutein a boost in its protection of the retina. Vitamins A and E become more effective when vitamin C is added to the mix. Beyond this critical role of supporting the function of other necessary antioxidants, vitamin  C also keeps the surface of your eye healthy. Citrus fruits are well-known sources of vitamin C, but many other fruits and vegetables contain this essential antioxidant. Eating bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, or spinach will also raise your vitamin C intake.

Vitamin E – Vitamin E is another vitamin that works with other vitamins to boost their function in the eye. It also enhances lutein’s work in the retina and other vitamins’ roles in the eye. Likewise, it also helps protect the surface of the eye. You can add vitamin E into your diet by eating avocadoes, sunflower seeds, and certain nuts, like almonds.

Sunny days often signal the happy, carefree times of summer. You still need to take care of your eyes this spring and summer. Eating a diet rich in eye-healthy nutrients and wearing either sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat can help you see well for longer.

References: exposure and eye disorders in an economically active population: data from the KNHANES 2008-2012 of cataract and sun exposure in geographically diverse populations of India: The CASE study. First Report of the ICMR-EYE SEE Study Group -Sunlight and age-related eye disease. Degeneration and Occupational Risk Factors is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye)? in Australia: a cost of illness study of Dietary Nutrients on the Prevalence of Dry Eye Syndrome among Korean Women Aged 40 and above: Evidence from the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and Eye Health Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health – Macular pigment in retinal health and disease and Nutrition Fabulous Foods to Boost Eye Health best foods for vitamins and minerals




Priscilla Lundquist

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