Just as sunlight damages the skin, the eyes are also susceptible to the sun’s harmful UV rays. Eyelids are particularly vulnerable to UV damage due to their thin skin and fragile tissues. Years of unprotected UV exposure can also damage the lens and cornea over time.
Without adequate protection, prolonged sunlight exposure can lead to the following eye-related health complications.
Eyelid cancers account for 5 to 10 percent of all skin cancers. Most eyelid cancers occur on the lower lid, as this area receives the most sun exposure. These cancers respond well to surgery and follow-up care when diagnosed and treated early. If left untreated, the cancers could ultimately penetrate the brain.
Early warning signs include unexplained loss of eyelashes; a lump or bump that may bleed and does not disappear; persistent red eye or inflammation of the eyelids; and flat or elevated pigmented lesions with irregular borders and growth.
Macular degeneration is caused by gradual damage to the eye’s retina. The retina is the ocular membrane where images are formed and transmitted to the brain. The region of sharpest vision near the center of the retina is the macula, the area most likely to be damaged. Macular degeneration is one of the major causes of vision loss in the U.S. for people over 60, and some studies suggest that UVA and HEV light radiation are potential causes of this condition.
Cataracts and Corneal Sunburn
Cataracts are a progressive clouding and yellowing of the eye’s focusing mechanism, the lens. Around 10 percent of cataracts occurrences are attributed to UV exposure. Cataracts are the most common cause of treatable blindness worldwide.
Excessive exposure to UV rays can also burn the cornea, or the eye’s clear refracting surface that admits light to the retina. This causes a corneal sunburn, or keratitis.
Though many of these diseases and conditions occur later in life, people of all ages need to protect themselves from sun exposure to prevent these health complications in the future.
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