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Your Vision & Hearing Health

Under the Aussie Sun: The Impact of UV Damage on the Eyes & How to Protect Them

Posted on January 5, 2024

Australia experiences some of the highest ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels in the world.

During summer, Earth’s orbit brings the continent closer to the sun, resulting in a 7% increase in solar UV intensity. Specialist Clinics of Australia explains this is up to 15% more UV than Europeans are exposed to. While the UK has UV Index 6-8, Australia has UV Index 10-14.

Even in winter, Australia experiences UV levels of 3 and above, which are considered unsafe levels of exposure. The Australian sun is strong enough to cause a sunburn in as little as 11 minutes, so it is extremely important that you’re aware of how much time you are spending in the sun and ensure you are taking appropriate precautions.

A healthy amount of sun exposure is important for the body and mind, with a range of benefits to your physical and mental health, including your eye health. You should be careful, however, when spending a lot of time outdoors and be wary of sun damage to eyes.

The impact of UV overexposure on eye health

Healthy levels of sunlight have been demonstrated to protect against eye disease, and lead to healthier overall eye growth.

As explained in an article by Michigan State University, dopamine is necessary for healthy eye growth – a hormone stimulated by natural light. This means time outdoors can help to fight vision conditions such as nearsightedness. Higher levels of sun exposure also lead to more macular pigment, which prevents age-related vision loss. This pigment is known to prevent damage to the retina by absorbing blue light.

Just as healthy sunlight exposure can protect against disease, unhealthy exposure to UV radiation can increase risk of disease and eye damage, and lead to premature ageing. There are two types of UV light, the most harmful being ultraviolet A (UVA) which reaches the back of the eye and can damage central vision. The second type of UV radiation is Ultraviolet B (UVB), which is absorbed by the cornea and lens.

Eye diseases caused by UV damage

UV exposure has been found to cause or increase risk of a range of eye conditions.

Common UV-related conditions include:

  • Cataracts: A cataract occurs when the lens gradually becomes cloudy. Overexposure to sunlight without protection increases the risk of cataracts as this light can damage lens proteins.
  • Macular degeneration: Age-related macular degeneration involves slow loss of central vision due to damage to the retina. It is thought to be linked with UV light exposure as this can place stress on the retina according to the National Library of Medicine.
  • Keratitis: This condition involves an inflammation of the cornea that can lead to vision loss, and can either be caused by infection or by the cornea becoming burnt by harmful UV rays.
  • Cancer: This can occur either in the eye in the tissue surrounding the eyeball, spread from other parts of the body, or occur in the skin surrounding the eye such as the eyelid.
  • Eye spots: Pterygium and pinguecula are growths of fleshy tissue that develop on the conjunctiva (white part of the eye) due to sun damage. They are generally harmless, but can begin to cause vision concerns or irritation.

How to maintain healthy sun exposure

While the sun can be damaging, avoiding the sun altogether is not a healthy option as the sun offers a range of necessary benefits. It is important to spend time outdoors, but to do so safely.

As the Cancer Council says, to protect your eyes you should:

  1. Slop on some sunscreen
    Sunscreen is an excellent option for sun protection. Don’t forget about the skin around your eyes when you’re applying sunscreen to avoid sunburn or risk of skin cancer near the eyes.
  2. Slap on a hat
    Cover your eyes from direct sunlight as much as possible by wearing a hat when outside in times of high UV during the day.
  3. Slide on some sunnies
    You should wear quality sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection, as well as polarisation to reduce brightness and glare. These should be fitted close to the eye so as not to allow any gaps.
  4. Seek shade
    High quality shade can reduce your UV exposure by 75%. You should seek shade that offers protection from direct sun, as well as protection from indirect UV that can reach you from reflective surfaces like water or sand.

Protect your eyes from harmful UV with George & Matilda Eyecare

At George & Matilda Eyecare we pride ourselves on offering a range of eye care products and solutions to protect your precious eyes from the damaging impacts of UV radiation. With a range of high quality products such as Carrera sunglasses and Maui Jim sunglasses, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to comfort, style and protection.

If you are experiencing any eye concerns, you should book an eye test with one of our reliable optometrists. In the meantime, make sure you’re following the above advice when it comes to protecting your eyes from the sun.

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