Peter Michalos, MD FAAO Board Certified Ophthalmologist, Clinical Associate Professor Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
- Avoid UV ASAP
We now know that the effects of ultraviolet light rays from the sun are cumulative over a lifetime. UV radiation is a mutagen (meaning it damages DNA) that accelerates aging and decreases longevity. During the peak hours of 12pm-3pm, the sun is the most toxic to the eyes 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.
- Keep an eye on your eyelids
Our eyelid skin is the thinnest in the entire human body and is 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 left side of the face because we drive on the left side. For those who live in places like New Zealand, it happens more on the right.
- Know about the snow
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. Teaching children about using hats, sunscreen and sunglasses, as is done in schools in Australia, would help reduce the lifetime cumulative damage of UV light. Avoid the midday sun, especially at high altitudes when reflected off water or snow.
- Stop staring
Never stare into the sun. It can cause solar retinopathy, and permanent retinal damage in the back of the eye that results in decreased vision. Avoid tanning beds as they generate sustained UV light damage to the eyes and surrounding skin.
- Eat your greens
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.