What are the symptoms of sun damage to your eyes? Is it reversible?

Sun damage is no joke. In recent years, you’ve probably become familiar with the harm the sun can do to your skin; but rarely do social media channels light up about the effects the sun can have on your eyes.

The news shines the biggest spotlight on blue light exposure, but barely moonlights the dangers of sunlight exposure. It’s important to understand the symptoms of sun damage to your eyes, the most significant vision problems caused by sun damage and the ways you can reverse or prevent them.

What are the symptoms of sun damage to the eyes?

Just like ultraviolet (UV) rays, the symptoms of sun damage fall on a spectrum. The damage to your skin can range from freckles to sunburns to skin cancer; similarly, the damage to your eyes can range from blurred vision to a physical lesion.

What are eye conditions linked to sun exposure?

  1. Cataracts: Unfiltered sun exposure can lead to cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye. The development of cataracts is typically gradual with vision being affected more with time and progression. Unfiltered exposure to UV rays from the sun is known to exacerbate the development of cataracts. Prevention of cataract development is influenced by proper nutrition and wearing quality ultraviolet (UV) blocking sunglasses when exposed to the sun.

  2. Corneal sunburn: Your corneas are similar to the skin of your eyes. The cornea is the clear barrier between the outside world and the internal eye structures, offering both a thin layer of protection and a portal for vision. Just as your skin can get sunburned, your corneas can too, resulting in a condition called photokeratitis. Photokeratitis is a painful condition caused by unfiltered ultraviolet rays disrupting the cornea. Prevention involves proper sun wear protection.

  3. Macular degeneration: Age-related macular degeneration, a gradual worsening of vision in later years, can be intensified by UV exposure. This condition involves the disruption of the macula, the central area of the retina, responsible for clear vision. Age-related macular degeneration is exacerbated by sun exposure.

  4. Pinguecula: The white part of your eye, or the conjunctiva, can be damaged by the sun. Just as your skin can suddenly develop moles and such, your conjunctiva can develop discolored typically benign, elevated clear bumps when exposed to the sun. A pinguecula does not grow onto the cornea and therefore has no effect on vision.

  5. Pterygium: A pterygium is also a type of growth that can form on the conjunctiva of your eye due to excessive sun exposure. Unlike pinguecula, however, a pterygium can spread onto the cornea thus possibly affecting vision.

Is sun damage to the eyes reversible?

The short answer to this question is yes. However, note that prevention is much easier than reversing sun damage. Remember to avoid direct exposure to sunlight as often as possible by wearing sunglasses with UV protection.

So, how can sun damage to the eyes be reversed?

Natural healing: Corneal sunburns can heal on their own as long as you avoid further sun exposure. The body is resilient. Let it do its thing.

Cataract surgery: When you have cataracts, only your lens is affected. Removing the cataract/lens in the eye and replacing the natural lens with an artificial lens, in this case, can completely reverse this type of sun damage and restore vision.

Pterygium surgery: Pterygia usually only cause mild irritation. Because a pterygium doesn’t always spread across your cornea, surgery is a last resort. However, surgery is currently the only way to reverse this type of sun damage, if it progresses to the point of vision obstruction.

How can you protect your eyes from sun damage?

You can protect your eyes and prevent sun damage by wearing UV protection sunglasses. When shopping for new shades, be sure to buy only sunglasses that boast UV 400 protection.