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Sun Can Damage Your Eyes

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Most people are aware that tanning can cause skin cancer. Tanning can also cause eye problems, especially in tanning beds. Your eyelids or common sunglasses are not enough protection for your eyes. There are several problems that can be caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Pterygium is an overgrowth of the conjunctiva, the clear tissue that covers the white of your eye. It is usually non-cancerous, and is most commonly found in people who work outside or have a lot of exposure to wind and sun. It can grow big enough to block your vision, and while it can be removed surgically, it may grow back. A pterygium does not usually require treatment.

Cataract is a clouding of the eye lens. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide, and can be caused by exposure to UV rays. When the lens clouds, vision is blurred, but can cause double vision, and glare from lights, particularly at night. Treatment is usually surgical.

Ocular melanoma is cancer in your eye. It is just like the skin cancer melanoma, but in your eye. It is not common, but it is the most common primary eye cancer, meaning it starts in your eye, unlike other cancers that might spread to your eye. UV exposure is thought to be a risk factor for ocular melanoma, but it has not yet been proven.

Photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis are both similar to a sunburn, but on the eye. Photokeratitis is inflammation of the cornea, while photoconjunctivitis is inflammation of the membrane that lines the inside of your eyelids and eye socket. They are both temporary and reversible, but painful.

We hear a lot of information about the dangers of tanning and UV skin exposure, but it is easy to forget that the eyes are exposed as well. It is important to wear wide-brimmed hats and eye protection. When you apply your sunscreen, put on sunglasses that have UVA and UVB protection.


Mayo Clinic

Medline Plus

World Health Organization

Add a Comment2 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Thanks for clearing that up, Grant. We appreciate any input.

May 5, 2010 - 12:09pm
EmpowHER Guest

I want to clear up two common misconceptions:

1) Ocular melanoma is the most common primary eye cancer in adults but it is NOT "just like the skin cancer melanoma but in your eye." They're in fact very different and propagate (metastasize) very differently as most research points to OM being a blood disease that can easily crop up in the liver whereas skin melanoma more often travels via the lymphatic system.

2) There is no direct evidence linking sun exposure with incidence of ocular melanoma. That has commonly been thought to be the case but no study has proven that definitively. Still, though, it's good practice to wear good UVA/UVB sunglasses and/or a hat with a brim when outdoors.

More more information, please visit http://www.ocularmelanoma.org

Grant Allen
Ocular Melanoma Foundation

May 5, 2010 - 10:55am
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