The Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) has partnered with the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS) to launch The Sunglasses Project, an awareness effort that will coincide with the CDA’s annual Sun Awareness Program, which takes place from June 5 to June 11.
The project aims to educate Canadians about taking precautions to protect their eyes from the sun’s rays. The focus of the sunglasses campaign is to promote awareness about the benefits of UVR eye protection and to convince people to practice sun safety that includes the eyes.
“Our hope is that every Canadian will become aware of the associated eye health risk of UVR exposure and take steps to protect themselves, their families and their loved ones,” said Dr. Jennifer Beecker, national chair of the Sun Awareness Working Group, in a press release. Those steps include wearing a wide-brimmed hat, staying out of the sun during peak UVR hours (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and wearing the appropriate type of sunglasses.
Dr. Beecker is a staff dermatologist at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at The University of Ottawa.
How UV rays harm eyes
Unprotected UVR exposure can cause short-term pain and discomfort, but permanent damage to the eyes can result from prolonged exposure to the sun without adequate protection.
“Children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to the sun’s rays because their ocular lenses aren’t yet mature and can’t filter UV light as effectively as adults, causing damage to the retina. In addition, their pupils tend to be larger by nature, allowing more light rays into the eye,” said Dr. Guillermo Rocha,
president of the COS and an ophthalmologist at Ocular Microsurgery & Laser Centre in Brandon, Man.
Short-term, excessive exposure to UV light—especially from light reflected from sand, snow, or pavement—without adequate eye protection can produce a burn on the eye’s surface. It is similar to sunburn but the damage occurs in the eyes.
Long-term, cumulative UV exposure can also damage parts inside the eye, such as the lens and retina, increasing the risk of chronic eye diseases and various cancers. Years of repeated exposure can lead to more permanent damage that may contribute to vision loss and eye diseases, including cataracts and macular degeneration, and pterygium. In addition, it increases the risk of melanoma of the eye.
Skin cancer is also a risk, since the area around the eyes is thin, delicate, and sunscreen cannot be easily applied to protect the area. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are common around the eye.
Choosing the right eye protection
Dermatologists can give these tipes to their patients about selecting sun protective eyewear:
Check out the label. Look for glasses that filter out 99 to 100% of UV light (both UV-A and UV-B).
Choose the right design. If you spend a lot of time in the sun, it is recommended that you buy wrap-around glasses to prevent the sun from entering your eyes from the sides.
Consider more than colour and cost. Don’t judge a pair by colour or price. Dark lenses don’t necessarily mean good protection, nor do expensive glasses.
Overall, protecting eyes means wearing UV-protective sunglasses and wearing a wide-rimmed hat to offer further coverage.
Through the Sunglasses Project, the CDA and COS aim to open people’s eyes to the importance of sun safety for the eyes, as well as for the skin.
Sun Awareness Week The Canadian Dermatology Association has organized the nation-wide early summer Sun Awareness Week since 1989. The aim is to educate Canadians about the dangers of too much sun and to help stop the rising incidence of skin cancer in Canada. This year’s Sun Awareness Week is Monday, June 5 to Sunday, June 11, and involves a number of events and activities across Canada.