British summers are unpredictable at the best of times, but take it from an ophthalmologist: the increased light and outdoor activity at this time of year will take a heavier toll on your eyes. Whether you’re heading for a beach holiday, hiking in the hills or simply enjoying the sunshine in your back garden, you need to ensure you’re giving your eyesight the best protection possible. People often ask me for my advice on how to do just that. Here are some of the most common questions, and my answers…
Q: When should I wear sunglasses? What type of sunglasses should I wear?
A: Wearing sunglasses in bright sunshine is very important for your ocular health. Always buy a pair marked with a CE (Conformité Européene) or Kitemark (the British equivalent). These guarantee your protection from ultraviolet (UV) light, which is thought to play a role in a number of eye conditions. Sunglasses needn’t be expensive to be effective, but they should be CE-marked to ensure quality. Buying fake designer glasses, or ones from online and other outlets that don’t appear to be selling genuine goods, is a false economy. In fact they can make matters worse by convincing you that your eyes are protected when they aren’t. This is a particular problem with dark-tinted fakes, which will allow your pupils to dilate without providing the additional UV protection.
Enjoying water sports does expose you to higher UV levels, since light is reflected back to your face from the surface of the water – so be extra vigilant. Fishermen have known for years that using polarised sunglasses can be particularly effective in reducing glare – and of course they also help you to see the fish better!
Q: Which eye diseases are caused, or made worse, by sunshine?
A: Common skin cancers such as rodent ulcers (a slow-growing malignant tumour of the face) are more common on areas of the skin exposed to sunlight, and prolonged exposure to high levels of UV on the delicate skin of the eyelids will accelerate the signs of ageing. Sunglasses don’t merely protect your eyes on the inside. They also shield the surface of the eye and the skin around it.
Other conditions like pterygium (a benign growth of the conjunctiva) and pingueculum (a yellowish thickening of the conjunctiva) are also thought to be related to high UV exposure. These are more common in regions closer to the equator, and are certainly more common in people whose occupations expose them to high UV, such as fishermen, or professionals who work in dry, dusty climates.
Unprotected UV exposure is also thought to play a role in the development of cataracts. Additionally, people with conditions affecting their macular should wear sunglasses in bright sunshine. Both of these conditions are worsened by smoking, so take good medical advice on how to help yourself quit.
Q: I’m about to go on holiday. What can I do to protect myself in very bright conditions?
A: Wear sunglasses when you know that you are going to be exposed to high UV, particularly around water. A hat with a brim can help significantly with glare. This might be anything from a Panama to a baseball hat or a golf visor, so there is plenty of choice. And be sure to use a good quality sun lotion [WOULD YOU RECOMMEND A FACTOR?] when you’re heading for an exposed or particularly hot location. Always try to avoid direct sun exposure around noon.
Q: Is sunshine good for you?
A: Yes! Our bodies require sunshine in order to make Vitamin D, which is good for our bones. Like all things, it’s just important to approach it with a little moderation. With that in mind, let me wish you all the best for your summer plans this year. Enjoy the break – and don’t forget to pack your sunglasses!