The Effects of the Sun on the Eyes

April 13, 2021

Our eyes’ ability to take in light is what grants us the ability to see. Much of that light comes from the sun, but unfortunately, the sun can also be harmful to our sight. If our eyes become too exposed to certain kinds of light, they can suffer both long- and short-term damage. Here’s what you need to know about the sun’s effects on the eyes.

Eye Injury

The sun can harm your eyes in multiple ways, similarly to how sunlight can negatively impact skin health. Eye sunburn is one of the most common negative effects of the sun, which is the result of too much exposure to the sun’s rays without proper eye protection. This injury can result in redness in the eyes, and if it’s serious enough, the eyes may begin to sting or water. If this occurs, go inside immediately.

Eye injury from sun exposure can also happen in other ways.


Photokeratitis, often known as snow blindness, occurs when the harmful UV rays of the sun burn the cornea. This can occur if you spend significant amounts of time out in the sun in a location where the landscape (i.e. snow, ice, water or sand) reflects the rays of the sun into your eyes, effectively doubling your exposure to its light. This is why people who participate in winter or water sports wear protective goggles, as even a short amount of exposure to sunlight reflected off water particles can harm your eyes and your vision for a time. 


Another condition that can develop is a pterygium, which is a condition that occurs when overexposure to the sun causes harmful inflamed growths to show up in the conjunctiva (the laver covering the white of the eye, and extend onto the clear cornea. If this condition develops, you may experience extended periods of dry, itchy, watery eyes or a gritty sensation within them.  If the growth continues it can begin to obstruct vision and sometimes surgery is necessary to remove it.

Eye Disease

Multiple kinds of disease can result from overexposure to the sun. Cataracts, which occur when the lens of the eye thickens and hardens, are often linked to aging. However, they may develop more quickly if you expose your eyes to the sun too often. Another eye disease often linked to aging can also develop early due to overexposure to the sun’s rays is  macular degeneration. This condition can lead to blindness over time if not treated. Skin cancer, affecting the eyelids, can occur as well with prolonged sun exposure.

How to Protect Your Eyes From the Sun

Fortunately, there are several easy ways to prevent the sun from doing too much damage to your eyes too early.

Wear Protective Gear

The first way to protect your eyes is to find a high-quality pair of sunglasses. This may be more in-depth than you realize, though, as not all sunglasses are truly protective during extensive periods of wear. Many sunglasses are polarized, but that doesn’t mean they include protection from the other rays of the sun. Find a pair of sunglasses or protective goggles with 100% UV protection/UV400 protection, or protection from UV-A and UV-B rays. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you should also invest in a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and eyes.

Limit Your Time In the Sun

Another way to protect your eyes from the sun is to simply pay attention to how much time you spend in it. Spending time outdoors is great and healthy, but be aware that if you regularly spend hours working or playing under a bright sun, you should start taking short but regular breaks indoors or in the shade.

Avoid Tanning

Tanning involves exposure to a heavy concentration of UV light, whether through staying out in the sun or using a tanning bed or lamp. Purposefully exposing yourself to these harmful rays can do long-term damage to not just your skin, but also your eyes, particularly if you’re not wearing protective eyewear while using such a device.

We Can Help

If you have questions about how the sun can affect your eyes or if you are trying to manage an eye condition brought on by exposure to the sun, we’re here to help you find the right solution for your needs. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

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