Looking for an excuse to spend some money? You need a great pair of shades. More than a fashion statement, the right sunglasses can protect your eyes from some pretty serious consequences.
While everyone ought to take eye protection seriously, you should be especially careful if you have blue or green eyes, says Anne Sumers, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and a practicing ophthalmologist in Ridgewood, N.J. “Light eyes have less melanin, which is protective because it absorbs UV rays,” she explains.
You may also be vulnerable if you take medications including oral contraceptives, certain antibiotics (like Cipro), and some over-the-counter pain relievers (like Advil and Aleve), Sumers adds. These drugs cause changes in your skin that make it extra sensitive to the damaging effects of sunlight.
The potential for damage heats up this time of year as the days get longer and the sun’s rays get more intense — plus you’ll probably be spending more time outside. Wondering what could go wrong with those baby blues? These five truths will make you think twice about how you care for your eyes.
1 . Your eyes can get sunburned.
It’s called photokeratitis, and it’s about as fun as it sounds. “Just like when your skin gets sunburned, it doesn’t hurt while it’s happening,” says Sumers. But four to five hours later it’s a different story: You can expect severe pain for 24 to 48 hours, as well as redness, swelling, a gritty, scratchy feeling and “frighteningly blurry” vision, says Sumers. Pain meds, lubricants and cold compresses can help, and you might need to wear an eye patch. Spending time near reflective surfaces, like water or snow, ups the risk, as does using a tanning booth without goggles. When it happens in wintry settings it’s often called snow blindness; when it happens in a tanning booth, Sumers calls it Jersey Shore blindness. Whatever you name it, luckily the damage is rarely permanent — but you won’t forget it how it felt.
2. You could go blind.
You’re unlikely to return from the beach with a complete loss of vision, but over the years those rays really take a toll. Research shows that UV light exposure increases the risk of cataracts — the leading cause of blindness — and also contributes to macular degeneration, a deterioration of the retina that becomes more common with age.
3. You can develop growths. On your eyeball.
They’re called pterygium — also known as surfer’s eye — and they’re not attractive. Essentially, fleshy tissue crops up on the white of your eye and can become red and irritated. If these growths get large enough to interfere with your vision they’ll have to be surgically removed.
4. You’ll get wrinkles.
Fine lines around your eyes aren’t necessarily dangerous, but who wants to prematurely age oneself? And while you might think that wrinkles are inevitable, they’re not: About 90 percent of the visible signs of aging are caused by UV light, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
5. You could get cancer.
We’re talking skin cancer — on the eyelids and around the eyes — as well as ocular melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer that’s usually found in the eye itself.
The good news is that it’s easy to lower your risk of all these problems just by wearing sunglasses. Look for “100 percent UV blocking” or “UV 400” on the label, as both indicate maximum protection from rays. Sumers also recommends choosing a pair with large lenses and wraparound frames, which provide more coverage. Add a broad-brimmed hat, cover any exposed skin with sunscreen, and you’re ready for some (safer) fun in the sun.
Originally posted on May 26, 2014. Updated July 2015.