The Medical Society of the State of New York advises that too much summer sunlight in early adulthood may increase the risk for developing age-related maculopathy, an eye disorder that can cause blindness, according to an article in the Archives of Ophthalmology, a publication of the American Medical Association.
Age-related maculopathy is the leading cause of vision loss in older Americans, and few therapies exist to treat patients with this disease. ARM is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels on the retina (the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye), the development of drusen (opaque deposits on the retina), and increased retinal pigment.
The article reported on a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin Medical School that examined the association between sunlight exposure and sunlight sensitivity and the 10-year incidence of ARM among people between the ages of 43 and 86. Study participants were first examined between 1988 and 1990; 3,684 of them were then studied in follow-up exams for 5 years, and 2,764 were studied for 10 years. Information on sun exposure and indicators of sun sensitivity was collected at the beginning of the study and/or during follow-up visits.
Participants who reported being exposed to the sun for more than five hours a day during their teens, 30s and at the beginning of the study—were three times as likely to develop increased retinal pigment and were more than twice as likely to develop early ARM within 10 years—compared to participants who reported being exposed to less than two hours per day of sunlight during the same periods.
Hats and Sunglasses Reduced Risk by 50 Percent.
In participants who reported being exposed to the most sunlight, the use of hats and sunglasses at least half the time was associated with an approximately 50 percent lower risk of developing drusen and retinal pigment. Participants who reported more than 10 severe sunburns during their youth were 2.5 times more likely than those who experienced 1 or no sunburns to develop drusen within 10 years.
The Medical Society of the State of New York recommends protecting your eyes with sunglasses and hats by following the guidelines below from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Select sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays. Do not be deceived by color or cost. The ability to block UV light is not dependent on the darkness of the lens or the price tag.
Ideally, your sunglasses should wrap all the way around to your temples; so the sun’s rays cannot enter from the side.
In addition to your sunglasses, wear a broad-brimmed hat to protect your eyes. Do not be fooled by a cloudy day. The sun’s rays can pass through the haze and thin clouds.
Even if you wear contact lenses with UV protection, remember to also wear your sunglasses.
In addition to the damage caused by a lifetime of exposure to bright sun, you need to protect your eyes from acute damage caused by single outings on very bright days. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light reflected off sand, snow or pavement can damage the cornea, the eye’s surface. Similar to a sunburn on your skin, corneal ultraviolet injuries are painful, but usually heal quickly.