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Home / News and Events / Health Tips / Vanderbilt doctors warn: Protect eyes from sunís damaging rays
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Vanderbilt doctors warn: Protect eyes from sunís damaging rays

Reviewed By: Mark Melson, M.D., Vanderbilt Eye Institute (Last Updated: July 16, 2010)

by Jessica Pasley and Leslie Hast

When it comes to protecting their children from damaging sun rays, skin protection is a top priority for many parents. But there is another area that needs to be brought into focus: the eyes.

Excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light reflected off sand, water or pavement can damage the eyes, said Vanderbilt Eye Institute’s Mark Melson, M.D., oculoplastic and reconstructive surgeon.

Most of Melson’s patients are age 50 or older, but he has treated patients as young as 20. With that in mind, Melson suggests parents protect their children.

“Everyone needs protective eyewear and hats,” said Melson. “Even babies need to have sunglasses with UV protection. Not all sunglasses have the ultraviolet coating, but most do. When purchasing sunglasses look for those that filter both UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B).”

Melson is an ophthalmologist who performs plastic surgery around the eyes.

“I treat many patients with skin cancers presumably related to UV exposure,” said Melson. “Many of my patients have eyelid tumors from excessive exposure to UV light. The most frequent conditions we see are actual skin cancers, bumps, lumps and nodules that grow on the skin around the eyes. Typically the lower eyelid sees the most damage.”

In addition to lesions and tumors that may be cosmetically unappealing and require surgical removal, sun exposure may also lead to the development of cataracts and macular degeneration. Other eye problems caused by extended UV exposure include corneal sunburns or photokeratitis, and a condition called pingueculae, which are tiny yellow bumps that begin on the sclera (white part of the eye) and may eventually progress to pterygium, a condition that can disrupt vision.

Melson, who performs roughly 10 eyelid repairs a month, said most of the conditions are results of cumulative effects of sun exposure, so it is important to begin protecting children from an early age.

Although UV rays are typically associated with direct sun exposure, the rays can be reflected from the ground, water, snow, sand, and other bright surfaces. Melson says proper protection is the best defense against the harmful rays.

“We’ve all heard the same advice – covering exposed skin, using a high SPF sunscreen and reapplying it frequently,” said Melson. “But people also need to wear sunglasses and hats that will protect the eyes and the skin around them.”

Here are some tips for protecting children’s eyes:

  • Choose sunglasses that filter 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Check the label. The amount of UV protection provided is unrelated to how dark the lenses are.
  • Choose lenses that are large enough to block the sun from most angles. The best fit close to the eyes and wrap around the head.
  • Wear sunglasses year-round and even on cloudy days, but take special precautions in the sunny summer months.
  • Wear sunglasses even in shade. Harmful rays can still bounce off surfaces like buildings and water.
  • Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is also helpful.

Children can learn more about sun protection from the Environmental Protection Agency’s SunWise program.

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