Sun Damage to Eyes - Causes, Risks, Prevention and Treatment

Most people take precautions to protect their skin from harmful sunlight damage but few are as aware of the permanent and accumulative damage of sun exposure to your eyes.

Unlike other parts of your body, the lens in your eyes does not have the capacity to repair itself once damaged. In time, the damage to the lens caused by sunlight may lead to serious eye diseases or eventually to loss or impairment of vision.

Both UV rays and the light at the blue end of the spectrum can damage your eyes. One of the problems is that there are so many myths and misunderstandings about sun damage and this means that many people are unaware of the dangers or become aware too late after the damage is done and is irreversible.

For example, most people are unaware that blue light rays and UV can damage your eyes on cloudy days and even completely overcast days. Likewise sunglasses have become a fashion accessory rather than a genuine protective device.

Discover how sun exposure damages your eyes and how to prevent and treat the symptoms to minimize the impact
Discover how sun exposure damages your eyes and how to prevent and treat the symptoms to minimize the impact. Source: Public Domain

One of the problems with sunscreens is that for many years there was a positive relationship between sunscreen use and skin cancer incidence. Despite all the tests that had been done the conclusion was that sunscreen used caused cancer or increased the risk of cancer. Why did this occur?

There were two reasons: Many sunscreens were simply ineffective and some of the earliest active ingredients were shown to be carcinogens. The other reason that many people applied a single sunscreen coating and went out in the sun through the hottest part of the part around noon. Many did not reapply the sunscreens after swimming or after several hours of exposure. They had been lulled into a false sense of security and went out in the most dangerous part of the day without adequate cover.

In a similar way many people may be using poor quality eye-protection during the worst time of the day and not taking adequate precautions when its not sunny. While the damaging effects of the suns rays are three times greater during summer than winter, people can still be at risk of serious eye damage if they do not avoid going out in the sun, two hours before and after noon, during the winter months without properly certified eye protection.

Summary of Sun Damage Effects on Eyes


Acute Effects

Chronic Effects


Sunburn causing Redness, Blistering, Exfoliation and Tanning

Freckling, Wrinkling, Inflammation, Visible eyelid vessels and Skin Cancer

Conjunctiva (white part of the eye)

Photo-conjunctivitis, Swelling (Chemosis)

Growths on white part of the eye: Pterygiumand Pinguecula

Cornea (clear part of the eye)

Photokeratitis, Endothelial Damage, Ocular Herpes

Growth on the cornea, Changes in Endthelium



Age Related and Non-Age related Cataracts


Solar Retinopathy, Blue Light Photoretinitis

Macular Degeneration

Uvea (middle layer of the eye, beneath the white part of the eye

Anterior Uveitis


Temporary Problems with Over-exposure to Sunlight

Eye Diseases Associated with Sun Exposure

Over-exposure to harmful rays without eye protection can lead to:

What Is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium (Surfer's Eye)?

Pinguecula and pterygium are growths induced by sun damage on your eye’s conjunctiva, which is the clear covering over the white part of the eye.

Pinguecula is a growth that looks like a yellow spot or bump on the conjunctiva. It often appears on the side of the eye near your nose. A pinguecula is a deposit of protein, fat, or calcium.

Example of a Pinguecula on the white part of the eye.
Example of a Pinguecula on the white part of the eye. Source: Public Domain

Pterygium is a growth of fleshy tissue that may start as a pinguecula. It can remain small or grow large enough to cover part of the cornea. When this happens, it can affect your vision.

Example of a Pterygium on the white part of the eye
Example of a Pterygium on the white part of the eye. Source: Public Domain

Protecting your Eyes from Sun Damage

The most effective way to shield your eyes from UV exposure is to wear protective sunglasses. Properly certified sunglasses should be worn whenever you go outside (even briefly). UV rays are most intense and at risk of damaging your eyes during the early afternoon, during summer, near water and at beaches, where sunlight is reflected, and at high altitudes.

Studies have shown that the main danger period is between 10 AM and 4 PM daily, so it is particularly important to provide protection for your eyes during this period and where possible, avoid going out in the sun during the middle of the day. But damage can occur even on cloudy days and in the early morning and late afternoon. Wearing protective sunglasses with side shields as well as a wide brimmed hats is also important.

The type of sunglasses you choose is also important as the various types available vary greatly in the protection they provide. Choose a pair of sunglasses that are labelled to show that they are certified 9 or 10 grade and so can provide protection from virtually 100% of both UVB and UVA type UV rays.

The sunglasses you buy should also be effective in filtering as much visible light as possible (especially blue light), and try to buy glasses from reputable manufacturers.

There are various standards for sunglasses that apply in various countries that provide a guide. Expensive designer sunglasses or glasses with polarizing lenses are not necessarily the most effective for protection against the harmful rays of the sun. So always read the labels to find the certifications. The key things to look for especially for those exposed to reflection from water or snow are glasses that:

Tips for Reducing Sun Damage


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Tips for choosing sunglasses that are effective in protecting your eyes
Tips for choosing sunglasses that are effective in protecting your eyes. Source: Public Domain
Ultraviolet Level Chart and Likely Impacts
Ultraviolet Level Chart and Likely Impacts Source: Public Domain
Description of Macular Degeneration
Description of Macular Degeneration. Source: Public Domain