Don't overlook your eyes when you're thinking about ultraviolet (UV) protection while spending time outdoors, experts say.

Overexposure to the sun's UV rays has been linked to a number of eye problems, such as macular degeneration, age-related cataracts, pterygium (a benign growth of the tissue over the white part of the eye), photokeratitis (a burn of the cornea) and corneal degenerative changes, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA).

These conditions can cause blurred vision, irritation, redness, tearing, temporary vision loss and, in some cases, blindness.

"Just as skin is 'burned' by UV radiation, the eye can also suffer damage. The lesson-especially for young people—is that eyes need protection, too. Protection can be achieved by simple, safe and inexpensive methods such as wearing a brimmed hat and using eyewear that properly absorbs UV radiation," said Gregory Good, a member of AOA's commission on ophthalmic standards.

Children and teens are particularly susceptible to sun-related eye damage, because they typically spend more time outdoors than adults, and the lenses of their eyes are more transparent than those of adults, which means that more harmful light can reach the retina.

Survey Results

But it appears many people still don't fully understand the danger UV rays pose to eyes.

A recent AOA survey found that 40% of Americans don't think UV protection is an important factor to consider when buying sunglasses. The survey also found that 61% of Americans buy sunglasses for their children, but 23% don't check if the lenses provide protection against UV rays.

Important Advice For Protecting Eyes

  • Wear protective eyewear any time your eyes are exposed to UV radiation, even on cloudy days and during the winter.
  • Purchase quality sunglasses that block out 99% of UVA and UVB radiation and screen out 75% to 90% of visible light.
  • Make sure sunglass lenses are perfectly matched in color and free of distortions or imperfections.
  • Make sure children and teens wear sunglasses. They typically spend more time in the sun than adults.

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