Summer is here.
Before you run outside to soak up that sun, it is important to keep in mind the dangers of sun exposure to the skin.
According to the American Cancer Society, most skin cancers are a direct result of exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. The ACS stated on their website that both basal cell and squamous cell cancers – the most common types of skin cancer – “tend to be found on sun-exposed parts of the body, and their occurrence is typically related to lifetime sun exposure.”
The exposure and health risks are greater during the summer than in the winter. Also, the fact that UV rays are invisible makes it harder for people to see and recognize the damage they can do and when.
We all know – or at least, we should know – the importance of sunscreen. The SPF number is an indication of how long the sun’s UV radiation would take to redden your skin as opposed to the amount of time would take without sunscreen. A sunscreen with an SPF 30 would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen. This would allow about three percent of UVB rays to hit your skin. However, a sunblock with a high SPF does not mean that you can lounge outside for a long duration of time.
The skin is not the only part of the body that needs to be protected from UV rays; your eyes also need protection. UV radiation is a threat to your vision because its effect is greater in the summer than in wintertime.
Heading outside on a nice sunny day puts you at risk the minute you step out the door. Even when it’s overcast, there’s still a chance for overexposure. Every hour you spend without eye protection may increase your risk of developing serious eye diseases. If that isn’t enough to make you reach for a pair of shades, consider this: because UV rays are invisible, most people don’t even know they are harming their eyes.
According to Brad Schimke, OD, an optometrist with Trinity Health, children are especially vulnerable because the lenses in their eyes do not block as much UV radiation as adult eyes do. Others at risk for UV-related eye damage include people with retinal disorders, patients who have had cataract surgery, and people taking certain medications that make their eyes more sensitive to sunlight, he said.
“Regardless of the current health of your eyes, being outside on a bright day without eye protection, especially between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. when UV rays are at their strongest, may lead to serious problems with your vision,” Dr. Schimke noted, adding that overexposure can result in a condition known as photokeratitis – an actual “sunburn” on the eye(s) that is not only painful but can permanently damage the cornea(s). In addition, UV rays can cause tissue growth on the whites of the eyes, and there is always the danger that skin cancer may develop around the eye(s).
The lifetime accumulation of harmful UV rays has been linked to cataracts as well as age-related macular degeneration, a disease that can ultimately lead to permanent vision loss.
“The more your eyes are exposed to bright sunlight, the more subject they are to irreversible damage. Fortunately, it’s never too late to start protecting your eyes,” Dr. Schimke explained. “One of the best ways, naturally, is to wear sunglasses that filter out at least 98 percent of UV rays.”
Sunglasses obtained from an optician are a good choice because you can be sure that they will block out the appropriate amount of radiation. While there are even contact lenses available that filter out some UV radiation, lens wearers should also use sunglasses, since these contacts don’t block out all harmful rays.
Just because UV rays are most intense in the summer doesn’t mean you should forget about protecting your eyes once fall rolls around. Remember that ultraviolet radiation is present every day; whether it’s cloudy or sunny, hot or cold, the risk is always there.