Are you enjoying this weather?! Sunny summer days make us all feel great and are something to celebrate. As the temperatures soar, however, I thought I would share some thoughts on sun protection. We all know that we need to protect our skin from the sun’s harmful rays, but do you ever think about protecting your eyes?
Research suggests that exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight can increase the risk of short- and long-term damage to the eyes. As water sports-people, we are particularly at risk; not only do we spend more time than the average person outdoors, our UV exposure is increased even further because our favourite things – sand, sea and shiny sails – reflect a large proportion of the sun’s rays right back at us.
The Eyes and UV
Did you know that eyes can get sunburnt? The tissues of the eye are very delicate and can be damaged by the sun; photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis are light-induced inflammation of front of the eye (cornea) and membranes (conjunctiva) respectively. You have heard of snow blindness – it is an extreme form of photokeratitis. While painful and sometimes prone to complications, these conditions are usually reversible and do not in themselves cause long-term damage to the eyes or vision. As when the skin gets sunburnt, however, it is a clear indicator of too much exposure, which can lead to more severe problems.
Frequent or prolonged exposure to UV does cause long-term eye damage and blindness. Cataracts (fogging of the eye’s internal lens) are the world’s no1 cause of blindness and evidence suggests a link with UV exposure. Growths (pterygium) on the conjunctiva (also known as surfer’s eye), macular degeneration and eye cancers are also linked to sun exposure. The good news is that exposure to UV can be controlled – making surfers eye and other UV damage largely preventable!
Are Sunglasses Bad for your Eyes?
Seemingly, the most obvious answer is to get a pair of bins to protect your eyes, but beware cheap sunglasses. A dark lens without UV protection dilates your pupils, so it actually lets more UV into your eyes, increasing the damage!
Top Tips to Protect Your Peepers
- Buy sunglasses which offer 100% UV protection from both UV-A and UV-B. They will show compliance with BSEN 1836: 1997 or bear the CE kite mark and be labelled UV 400. The amount of UV protection is unrelated to the darkness or colour of the lens.
- Choose a wrap-around style – enough UV can sneak around the side of normal bins to reduce the benefit of having protective lenses.
- Polycarbonate lenses are light and shatterproof, which is important for sport. (It would be too ironic to be blinded by a shard from your shattered eye protection!) Scratch-proof coatings are useful, because plastic lenses are prone to scratching.
- Polarised lenses are good for watersports as they reduce glare from reflective surfaces, such as water. Polarisation is not the same as UV protection, but it can help to increase eye comfort and reduce eye fatigue. Most polarised lenses do include UV protective coatings as well, but do make sure.
- Watersports sunglasses – it is useful to have a strap or ‘croakie’ to keep your glasses on your head in case of a wipe out. It is also a bonus if the glasses float and some have vents to help prevent fogging.
- A wide-brimmed hat in addition to sunglasses will help to protect your eyes from the sun.
- As ever with sun safety, avoid exposure when the sun is strongest – in the middle of the day in summer. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security when it is winter, cloudy or dull. UV rays are present year round and pass happily through cloud and haze.
- If you absolutely can’t bear the thought of wearing a hat or sunglasses on the water, at least wear them on shore.
- Never look directly at the sun – this can cause permanent damage to the back of the eye (retina).
- Kids need sunglasses too – most of us will have had 80% of our UV exposure as children!
If you choose to ignore my advice, there is still an up side. It is believed that Claude Monet’s distinctive style of painting was down to cataracts blurring his vision and changing his perception of colour. So, if you don’t protect your eyes, there is definitely scope for you to seek immortality in an alternative watersport – so long as you like painting water lilies. Monet for Old Rope!