I am pretty good about making sure my kids and I are covered in sunscreen when we go out (convincing my husband is another blog altogether). But I rarely wear sunglasses. As silly as it sounds, I don’t really like how they feel sitting on the bridge of my nose. And hats? Forget about it.
As I sat squinting through my girls’ swim lessons on a bright and sunny 110-degree day recently, I wondered if I was doing myself harm.
I reached out to ophthalmologist Lisa Mihora, MD, about my concerns.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sun can do a lot of damage to the eyes.
“Eyelid skin cancers are very common,” Dr. Mihora said.
Skin cancers are most common in the medial canthus – the corners of your eyes where your eyelids meet – because of how the sun reflects. The types of cancers on eyelids include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma and sebaceous gland carcinoma.
Other eye problems caused by the sun can include:
- Sun-induced UV light damage known as pterygium or pinguecula to the conjunctiva – the mucious membrane that covers the front of the eye and inside of the eyelids – which can result in whitish appearance, blurry vision and dry eyes. If it grows into the corneal surface, it could require surgery to remove.
- Keratitis, a burn to front surface of the eye. This usually heals on its own, but can be very painful.
- Acceleration of certain types of cataracts.
- Solar maculopathy in the retina can occur from staring into the sun.
- Macular degeneration: it’s thought a component of lifetime UV light ray exposure can contribute to or make macular degeneration worse.
Warning signs include eyelid inflammation, a new lump that doesn’t go away or gets irritated and loss of eyelashes. Dr. Mihora said it’s important to have routine eye screening exams to look for melanoma of the eye, eye skin cancers, cataracts and more.
“It’s better to treat eye problems when they are small – and even better to prevent them altogether,” she said. “Prevention can and should be started at any age, especially since we live in a sun-drenched area.”
Dr. Mihora recommends wearing sunscreen on the face, wearing sunglasses with UVA and UVB rays close to 100 percent protection, wearing a hat, avoiding the sun during peak hours and wearing goggles in the pool.
Since I have a toddler who refuses to keep hats and sunglasses on, I asked how to help little ones protect their eyes.
“Make sure they have sunscreen on,” she said, “And start getting them used to putting on the objects such as sunglasses, or goggles in the pool. Over time, they will become used to it and keep them on longer.”
Sounds like I have some shopping to do.