The bright, sunny days of summer can lift our spirits in a way that rarely happens on dreary days. However, our eyes can be vulnerable to the effects of bright light and can be damaged without our realising it’s happening. This is why it’s important to know how to care for your eyes in bright light.
Research has shown that exposing our eyes to bright light can put them at greater risk of two eyesight problems.
Your top 10 questions on eye health
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Cataracts are cloudy areas that develop over time in our eyes’ lenses. Our lenses consist mostly of water and protein. Cataracts happen when the protein clumps together. This makes the lenses in our eyes (located behind the pupil) become cloudy. This cloudiness affects our vision, often making it blurred. Cataracts are quite common in older people – around one in three people over 65 have a cataract.
Lenses made cloudy by a cataract can often be removed in a simple day operation during which your lens will be replaced with an artificial one. You will probably have to wear a pad over your affected eye for a short while, and your surgeon may give you eye drops to use. Your sight should return to normal after a few days.
A look at some common eye conditions
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD, as it is commonly known, is a condition that means you lose the vision in the centre of your eyes (central vision). This usually happens in both eyes at the same time, and usually happens gradually, so that you may not notice at first.
AMD is a common problem, affecting around one in 10 people over 50, with women affected more often than men.
There are two types of AMD
Dry AMD starts when the cells in your macula are damaged by deposits of a fatty protein, known as drusen. In this case your vision deteriorates very gradually, so it may be some time before you notice any problems with your eyesight. Nine out of 10 cases of AMD are in this category, however around one tenth of people with this condition later have wet AMD
Wet AMD is caused when abnormal blood vessels form and damage cells in the macula. The macula is a small area in the centre of your retina. It is the part of your eye that allows you to see what is in the centre of your line of sight. It also allows you to see what’s in front of you in detail.
This is a more serious condition than Dry AMD. Unless Wet AMD is treated very promptly, your eyesight can be damaged very quickly, perhaps within the space of a couple of days.
Learn more about AMD
Other causes of eye damage
Our risk of developing these conditions increases if we spend a lot of time in bright light, without protecting our eyes. However, these aren’t the only eye conditions that bright light can cause.
- It is important to take care of your eyelids, as well as your eyes. This area of skin is fine and delicate and easily damaged by ultraviolet light.
- When the cornea (the clear surface at the front of the eye) has too much exposure to ultraviolet light, it can cause a type of sunburn on this sensitive tissue. Known as corneal flash burns, or ultraviolet keratitis, these can be painful, and may cause loss of vision.
Ultraviolet light comes from various sources, including the sun, sunlamps, halogen lamps and the reflected sunlight.
- The whites of our eyes can be affected by a condition called pterygium, which is a growth that develops in the conjunctiva, sometimes at the inner corner of the eye. In most cases this doesn’t need treatment, but see your GP or optician if this is troubling you.
- Light sensitivity can affect anyone, even if they don’t have an obvious condition that’s causing it. Some of us are simply more sensitive to light than others, and our eyes do tend to become more light sensitive as we age.
If your eyes are particularly sensitive to light, or have become noticeably more sensitive, book an appointment with your optician. They will be able to check for any damage or deterioration in your eyes, and give you advice on choosing sunglasses for outside, and tinted lenses for wearing indoors.
10 tips for eye health
Protecting your eyes
When buying sunglasses, make sure that they have strong enough UV protection. Ideally, choose glasses with a UV 400 label on them, and which give protection against UVA and UVB light.
Make sure that the sunglasses you choose carry the British Standard BS EN 18836:2005 label, and the CE mark. (This shows that they conform to the relevant EU directives.)
Don't take risks with the sun
You can wear these over your normal glasses for extra protection against ultra violet rays, bright light and glare. They look much the same as sunglasses, but are larger, and have shields at the sides to prevent light coming. They are also designed to stop light coming in from above. Ask your optician for help with choosing the right size.
The RNIB has a range of eyeshields, with lenses in different colours, to help with different eye conditions.
You can find out more about these at their website www.rnib.org.uk/eye-health-looking-after-your-eyes/protect-your-eyes-sun
Big-brimmed hats can give extra protection from glare, especially during the brightest hours of the day.
What to do if you have painful eyes
See your ophthalmologist (specialist eye doctor) or optician. They will check your eyes to see if they are damaged in any way, and tell you whether you need treatment. It’s a good idea to do this sooner rather than later, so that you can have treatment to ease the pain and, if possible, repair the damage.
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