A woman protects her eyes from cataracts.

With summer fast approaching and people spending more time outside, it is important to remember to protect yourself from the sun. Most people know the importance of protecting their skin from the sun, but did you know sunlight can also be a risk factor for cataracts?

What causes cataracts?

Rachel Sabo, MD

A cataract is when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, which leads to blurry or decreased vision. While this typically happens to most people as they age, sunlight - specifically UV light - is absorbed by the lens of the eye and over time can cause damage that may contribute to the progression of cataract development, CEENTA ophthalmologist Rachel Sabo, MD said.

Sunlight alone will not cause cataracts, but UV light is one of the factors that increases the risk for the development or progression of cataracts, Dr. Sabo said. UV light is also a risk factor for other eye conditions, such as pterygium (abnormal growths on the surface of the eye) and macular degeneration, so it is a good idea to wear eye protection when out in the sun, regardless of your age.

How do I protect my eyes from the sun?

People should wear sunglasses when out in the sun, Dr. Sabo said, especially people who spend a lot of time outside. Make sure the sunglasses have 100% UVA and UVB protection, she added. Also, a wide-brimmed hat is beneficial, and if people are using tanning beds they should be sure to wear the proper eye protection.

And this doesn’t mean people should avoid the sun completely. They can continue to go about their normal routines, but with small modifications like the sunglasses and hat, Dr. Sabo said. A diet rich in vitamin C may also reduce the risk of cataract progression.

She notes, however, that while this protection may influence when or to what extent someone develops cataracts, it will not completely prevent their development.

These pointers aren’t just good for the summer. The winter months can be as bad for the presence of UV light, Dr. Sabo said. For example, a day spent skiing in the snow in the winter can have just as much UV exposure as a summer day at the lake. It is important to maintain the lifelong habit of wearing sunglasses when outside, especially for prolonged periods, throughout the year.

People with concerns about cataracts or other eye conditions should make an appointment to see an ophthalmologist.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Dr. Sabo specializes in eye exams & routine eye care, cataracts, diabetic eye care, eye infections, and common eye problems. She practices in our Statesville office.


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