How UV Rays Affect Eye Health

Nov 28, 2023

It’s common knowledge that UV exposure to the skin is dangerous. However, many do not understand why protection from UV rays is essential to eye health. To keep the sun out of their eyes, people will wear UV-protective sunglasses during the warmer months.

Nevertheless, wearing UV protection sunglasses is about more than simply keeping the sun out of your eyes; it is essential to protecting short and long-term eye health. Here are five health risks to the eye from UV rays.


Also known as corneal sunburn, this condition is like a sunburn in on your eye. The eye has susceptible skin-like tissue that often sustains much damage in just a few hours of UV exposure. Corneal sunburn is more prevalent in the summer. Nevertheless, corneal sunburn can also occur during any other season as long as the sun is out. The condition can also occur in winter, even in very high altitudes; if it does, it is called snow blindness.

The determining factor for this condition is the reflection of UV light on various natural surfaces. In winter, fresh snow can reflect up to 80% of light through the clouds. Water and sand can also reflect as much light and cause the same condition. So, be sure to wear UV protection year-round.


Common worldwide, cataracts occur primarily in older people but can also affect infants. Cataracts usually develop when the fluid in the eye’s lens starts to collect debris that sticks to the sides of the lens.

The debris that forms on the eye’s lens leads to clouding of the lens, poor vision, and eventually blindness. Prolonged exposure to UV light causes cataracts to happen much faster.


Pingueculae are raised areas on the eye’s surface that feel like a bump on the eyeball. They usually form on the conjunctiva and are typically yellow or white. More prevalent in dusty and sandy areas, pingueculae are treated using eye drops.


Pterygium are growths on the conjunctiva that covers the inside of eyelids and the eye’s surface. They’re often a result of UV exposure and are a prevalent cosmetic issue. Prolonged exposure to UV light can lead to vision loss as the growth spreads to the cornea. Treatment for this condition is usually surgically removed, which is often successful.

Macular Degeneration

More common in older people, this condition affects the central part of the retina, the macula, which is responsible for sharp central vision. It typically takes two primary forms: 1) wet or exudative and 2) dry or atrophic macular degeneration.

The wet form develops when the macula develops abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid into the eye. The dry form develops when protein and lipid deposits called drusen accumulate on the macula, causing deterioration.

Protecting Your Eyes From UV Damage

The most harmful UV rays are UVA and UVB. Obviously, these rays are the most detrimental to eye health. The only way to keep your eyes safe from UV rays is by using sunglasses with 100% UV protection.

For more on how UV rays affect eye health over time, visit Big City Optical at our offices in Chicago, Wilmette, Evanston, Bannockburn, or Glenview, Illinois. Call or click here to book an appointment today.