The Eyes Should Have It, Too

The skin is usually what people think of protecting against the sun first, but the eyes are just as vulnerable to ultraviolet rays, reports CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.

Overexposure to the sun's UVA and UVB rays can be as damaging to the eye as they are to the skin.

Too much direct UV exposure to the eye can cause a "sunburn of the eye" in which the cornea is actually burned. The burn can be very painful, but it does heal. However, UV damage is cumulative, so over time, if the eyes are not properly shielded from the sun, internal damage to the lens or retina can occur.

In the case of the retina, UV radiation impairs how well it captures the images we see. Research has shown that the risk of developing cataracts - a clouding of the cornea - increases with ultraviolet radiation exposure. This condition can only be improved with surgery.

Those of all ages - from babies to grandparents - need their eyes protected from the sun. People with darker eyes have more natural protection, but everyone should wear protective UV sunglasses.

The best recommendations for protective eye wear will come from an eye doctor, but if you don't have one, here are three important preventative measures you can take:

  1. Get a pair of sunglasses that are labeled with both UVA and UVB protective lens coatings. In general, UV protective sunglasses block about 50 percent of UV radiation. Eye doctors recommend lenses that are gray, green, or brown.
  2. Make sure your sunglasses fit closely and wrap around the side of the eyes - this provides added protection, since sunlight can get over and around traditional eye wear.
  3. Add a wide-brimmed hat to shield the eyes from sun that spills in from overhead.
Wide hats and sunglasses are just as important for babies and children, since they have larger pupils than adults. Large pupils allow more sunlight in, so it's important to start eye protection early.

In addition to sunglasses, there are now UV blocking contact lenses. They are designed with the UV protection built right into the design of the lenses. These lenses block about 50 percent of damaging UV radiation, so it's important to wear sunglasses as well, Dr. Senay suggests. Together, the glasses and contact lenses block about 95 percent of the damaging UV rays.

Whatever protection you use for your eyes, keep in mind that precautions should be taken year-round, not just during the spring and summer months.

Reported By Dr. Emily Senay