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We Only Have One Set of Eyes—Protect Them

Jul 25, 2014 05:14PM ● By Millicent Knight, OD, CHC, FAARM

Summer months in the Windy City are loaded with fun. There are, however, precautions we should take to avoid damage to our skin and eyes while we are out in the summer sun. The skin around our eyes is fairly thin and becomes thinner with age as it loses elasticity, and all areas of the eyes are at risk of damage from UV rays. Overexposure to UV rays in our youth may set us up for eye-related complications later in life.

The Sun and Our Eyes

Although the eye has natural defenses, cumulative effects of UV absorption may cause acute damage such as corneal inflammation, or more chronic inflammatory conditions like cortical cataracts. Free radical damage from the sun has also been linked to degenerative changes in the macula. Regular preventative eye health visits to an optometrist or ophthalmologist can help with early detection and/or management of eye conditions that may be linked to UV damage.

• Visible light occurs in the 400 to 500 nanometer (nm) range, followed by infrared. The UV spectrum of the sun’s rays is divided into three regions:

• UVC: 100 to 280 nm—This is generally absorbed by ozone in the atmosphere. It can be artificially created with welding and germicidal lamps. Corneal injuries caused by these rays are referred to as welder’s arc or burn.

• UVB: 280 to 315 nm—This end of the spectrum includes burning rays that may affect the entire eye and can be a contributing factor to cataracts.

• UVA: 316 to 400 nm—This end of the spectrum may be associated more with general inflammation of the eye and the free radical damage affecting the macula of the eye. The macula is the oval-shaped, highly pigmented yellow spot near the center of the retina.

Simple Steps

When enjoying the sun, take these simple precautions to help protect eyes from damage:

•  Be conservative with time spent in the sun. Our bodies need sun to make vitamin D, but watch the length of exposure in late morning and late afternoon.

• Take precautions with well-fitted sunglasses. Up to 45 percent of UV rays can still reach the eyes, even with 100 percent UVA- and UVB-blocking lenses.

• If wearing prescriptive lenses, consider UV-blocking contact lenses to supplement eye protection. Be sure to look for higher levels of UV-blocking protection in the brand of lenses, especially with lighter-colored eyes.

• Wear a comfortably fitting, wide-brim hat.

• Apply organic virgin coconut oil on the face and around the eyes as a natural skin protector for to its inherent anti-inflammatory benefits.

• Take a high-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement to help alleviate free radical damage to the internal eye structures. It also helps support a healthy tear layer covering the cornea.

• Stay hydrated with water, keep the body more alkaline and enjoy some fun in the sun.


Dr. Millicent Knight is an optometrist, certified health coach, and a fellow in the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. For more information, call 847-570-9355 or visit EyeAndWellness.com.