By Consultant Ophthalmic, Corneal and Refractive Surgeon, Damian Lake 

The long sunny days have begun, which brings a smile to everybody's face. Sunshine has many beneficial effects on our metabolism including conversion of vitamin D which helps bone formation and strength. Exposure to sunlight during the day helps our sleep-wake cycles in a positive way, through chemical changes in our brain.

For children, exposure to sunshine is positive for eye development. There is now good evidence to support that children who regularly play outside have a decreased risk of becoming severely short sighted. In the Far East short, sightedness in children is now at epidemic proportions which leads to significant issues in adulthood, such as increased risk of glaucoma (eye pressure), retinal detachment, cataracts and blindness. Experts suspect that a lack of natural light, and children being exposed to bright, computer lights could be to

It is advisable to test children’s eyesight before they start school. If objects in the distance appear blurry, this is generally a symptoms of short sightedness.

So sunshine certainly has its positive effects, but like many things in life, over indulgence leads to problems.

The skin on the eyelids is particularly thin and constantly exposed, making it more susceptible to damage from ultraviolet light from the sun. UV light has the potential to cause skin cancer if there is cumulative sunlight exposure. So beware any new lumps and bumps on the eyelids, get them checked out.

Sunlight can cause direct damage, so never ever look directly at the sun, not even in an eclipse, as the rays can burn the most sensitive area of your retina called the macula. This is generally irreversible.

Reflection from water and sand can cause indirect damage, the time of day also affects the exposure to UV light rays. Close to midday the UV can be up to ten times stronger, but often the position of the sun can effect the damage it causes more. When the sun is high in the sky, your eyebrows provides some protection from its rays, but when the sun is low in the sky, your eye becomes more exposed.

Ultraviolet light rays can cause:

  • Skin cancers on lids
  • Pterygium (an overgrowth of skin on the eye)
  • Cancer on the surface of the eye
  • Cataract (a cloudy lens inside the eye)
  • Retinal damage (solar retinopathy)

What can you do to protect your eyes?

It's important to be aware of how long you stay in direct sunlight, and if possible take a break from the sun when the sunlight is strongest in the sky. Do not be fooled on cloudy days as UV light can still penetrate through thin clouds and hazy skies.

Never ever look directly at the sun, even with sunglasses on. This can cause irreversible damage.

Always wear good quality UV protection sunglasses. In surveys most people purchasing sunglasses never check the level of UV, they are more interested in the style or the designer, but it is important to look out for the UV400 or 100% UV protection mark.

Sunglasses should have a large dark lens, preferably with either a wrap-around element or side shades to protect the sensitive skin of the eyelids and brow. Wear sunglasses even if you use contact lenses with UV protection to help protect the eyelids.

If you have cataract surgery, always remember to question your surgeon as to the level of UV protection that the intraocular lens provides, as each brand may vary considerably. Once these lenses have been implanted they are often for life so it needs to be right first time.

Sun cream is a must, with a high SPF (sun protection factor) recommended around the eyes, and on surfaces that reflect the UV rays on to the eyes, such as the nose and high cheek bones (look at the application of sun cream on an Australian fast bowlers face). These are the most exposed areas in which skin cancers are more likely to develop.

Be wary of the sun, but don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the summer safely.

Page last reviewed on 26/06/2017

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