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Health Briefs

UV rays can harm eyes, as well as skin

The same damaging rays that can leave your skin burned can also burn your eyes. Ask Anderson Cooper. The CNN reporter sun-burned his eyes during an assignment in Portugal. He forgot his sunglasses while on the water.

He went blind for 36 hours.

While Cooper's bout of "photokeratitis" or corneal sunburn is an extreme case of the sun's rays harming eyes, anyone who goes outdoors without proper sunglasses is at risk of serious consequences. Those working or playing long hours in the sun are most at risk. Some medications and retina disorders can also increase your risk of serious, long-term eye damage.

The cumulative effects of long-term ultraviolet ray damage to the eyes can include:

  • Cataracts: A clouding of the eye's lens that can blur vision.
  • Pterygium: An abnormal growth, usually non-cancerous, in the corner of the eye. It can grow over the cornea, partially blocking vision, and may require surgery for removal.
  • Macular degeneration: The macula is the part of the eye responsible for our central vision – fine, sharp, straight-ahead vision we need for activities like reading and driving. Degeneration in this area is a leading cause of blindness.
  • Skin cancer around the eyelids: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer to affect the eyelids. In most cases, lesions occur on the lower lid, but they can occur anywhere around the eyes.

How to protect your eyes

Choose sunglasses that reduce glare, filter out at least 99 percent of UVA and UVB rays, are comfortable, and don't distort colors. UV protection doesn't have to cost a lot or get in the way of seeing clearly.

UV radiation exists in all seasons and can come from many directions – reflections off pavement, water, snow, and other reflective surfaces. Wrap-around sunglasses and wide-brim hats provide extra UV protection by blocking rays from the sides and above.

More tips on how to protect your eyes as you age.