We all know that UV rays from the sun can damage skin and even cause cancer, but did you know that UV rays can hurt your eyes, as well?

UV rays can cause short term burns to your cornea, and they can also cause slower damage over time, which may result in permanent vision loss. Read on and learn how to protect yourself from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light.

Cumulative UV damage

Damage to your eyes from UV rays is cumulative in the same way that damage to your skin is. This means that the damage adds up over time and that it never “goes away”. Each time you expose yourself to UV rays, you risk damage to your cells that cannot be repaired.

This is why skin cancer caused by excessive sunlight exposure doesn’t happen immediately after your first sunburn. It takes time to reach the point where the damage becomes noticeable. It’s the same way with your eyes. By the time you’ve lost vision or developed a degenerative eye condition, it’s too late.

Sunburned eyes

Yes, your eyes can be sunburned, just like your skin! It’s called photokeratitis and it can be nasty. Photokeratitis happens when your eyes are overloaded with UV rays in a short period of time. It is often painful and can cause temporary vision loss. Many cases actually occur in skiers or snowboarders who don’t wear protective goggles while out in the snow.

Don’t forget your eyelids

The skin around your eyes (and the skin of your eyelids themselves) is very thin. This leaves these areas even more susceptible to sunburn and other UV damage. Putting sunscreen on your eyelids is not advised as you can too easily get chemicals into your eyes. Hats and sunglasses are recommended instead.

What can UV light do to your eyes?

There are two types of UV rays: UV-A and UV-B. UV-B is considered to be the more damaging of the two. All UV light can damage almost any part of the eye, but the retina is particularly susceptible.

The most common problems that arise from cumulative UV exposure are skin cancer around the eyes, pterygium (an abnormal growth on the eye that may cause blindness), and some types of cataracts. Too much exposure to ultraviolet rays may even contribute to macular degeneration.

Protect your eyes

The best thing you can do for yourself is to protect your eyes. Wearing brimmed hats while outside can be helpful, as can picking shaded areas for outdoor activities and restricting your time spent outside to early mornings or late afternoons.

Of course you can’t always control when you go out. And never stepping foot outdoors in bright sunlight is a tall order. Luckily, you can buy sunglasses to mitigate your risk of damage from UV rays.

A good pair of 100 percent UV-resistant sunglasses can completely protect your eyes, much in the same way that sunscreen protects your skin (but without the chemicals or the risk of “wearing off”). And they’re stylish, too!

It matters which pair of sunglasses you purchase. Sunglasses hanging on the rack at the dollar store won’t do you much good, sadly. While all sunglasses dim bright lights, they don’t all actually filter out UV rays. Cheap sunglasses will actually put you at a higher risk of eye damage, because they trick your eyes into thinking it’s darker than it is, thus dilating your pupils and letting in more light. And since cheap sunglasses don’t block UV light, you’re really letting in more UV rays than if you’d worn no sunglasses at all.

Yet you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a top designer pair, either. A pair of sturdy, mid-range sunglasses will give you all the protection you need. Just make sure they’re clearly labeled as 100 percent UV-resistant.

Need prescription eyeglasses? 39DollarGlasses offers prescription sunglasses to give you crystal clear vision while you stay safe.

Be wary of cloudy days

If it’s overcast, you may not think much about the sun. But if the sun is out, then so are the UV rays. Cloudy, rainy and snowy days all carry a risk of UV exposure. It’s not as high as those dog days of summer when the sun is really beating down on you, but remember that UV exposure is cumulative. If you can remember, grab your sunglasses every day you spend a significant amount of time outside. Your eyes will thank you.

Stock up on sunglasses

Sunglasses are by far the most effective protection against UV rays, so it’s a good idea to carry a few backup pairs. Many people keep sunglasses in their vehicles. You may also want to leave one at work, or at the home of a friend or relative your visit often.

Remember that you only get one pair of eyes. Damage from UV rays is usually irreversible, so prevention is your best line of defense. It’s important to get annual eye exams to catch any sun damage early, and remember to check out 39DollarGlasses.com if you find yourself in need of a new pair of shades.