We now know that effects of ultraviolet light rays from the sun are cumulative over a lifetime. UV radiation is a mutagen (damages DNA) that accelerates aging and decreases longevity.
During the peak hours of noon to 3 p.m., the sun is the most toxic to the eye and surrounding skin. UV radiation is associated with corneal damage, cataracts, macular degeneration, dry eye, wrinkles, skin furrows, loss of elasticity and eyelid cancers.
Using a wide hat with a brim and wrap-around polarized sunglasses (prescription glasses, if needed) will help avoid and reduce the UV damage from sustained sun exposure.
Our eyelid skin is the thinnest in the entire human body and more susceptible to basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma skin cancer. Pinguecula and pterygium are fleshy, elastic-like, callus-like growths on the surface of the eye associated with long term UV sunlight damage. In the USA, we see more cataracts and cancers on the left eyelid and face because we drive on the left side. For those who live in places like New Zealand, it happens more on the right.
Snow blindness is another condition that occurs on sunny days in cold climates where UV light causes a burn of the cornea as it reflects off of snow, ice, sand or water. Educating children on using hats, sunscreen and sunglasses, as is done in schools in Australia, would help reduce the lifetime cumulate damage of UV light. Avoid the midday sun, especially at high altitudes when reflected off water or snow.
Never stare into the sun, as this can cause permanent retinal damage in the back of the eye with decreased vision called solar retinopathy. Avoid tanning beds as they generate sustained UV light damage to the eyes and surrounding skin.
Lastly, a diet rich in green leafy vegetables filled with zinc and lutein has been clearly associated with healthier retinas and reduced macular degeneration, which affects the central vision. For those who don’t like eating greens, a landmark eye study has shown that vitamins labeled AREDS formula contain zinc and lutein in doses shown to help.
See your board-certified ophthalmologist annually to spot problems early. They spent four years in college, four years in medical school, a year in an internal medicine or general surgery internship, three years in an ophthalmology and ophthalmic microsurgery residency and one or two years in a fellowship in sub-specialty training.
The eye is the window to systemic disease. Many diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV auto-immune disease, glaucoma, melanomas and macular degeneration can be picked up during your eye exam.
Think positive and test negative. Only 20% of your destiny is genes, but 80% is your diet, lifestyle, exercise, sleep habits, hygiene, stress management and living in a caring and peaceful environment.
Keep calm and carry on.
Peter Michalos, MD is an FAAO Board Certified Ophthalmologist Clinical Associate Professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons