6 Ways the Sun Can Hurt You (and How to Get Your Shine on Safely)

Published by Drew Dickson, MD on July 18, 2023

By now, most people have gotten the word about the importance of sun protection. We stay in the shade, slather on sunscreen and even wear clothing that blocks ultraviolet light.

And, let’s not forget those swanky shades. Sunglasses help us stay comfortable outdoors on those bright, sunshiny days, but they do so much more than that. Your eyewear can spare you from these six UV-related conditions:


Your eyes can burn in the sun just as your skin does. Overexposure to UV rays can produce a painful sunburn to the tissues in the eye, causing excessive tearing and, sometimes, temporary vision loss.

Eye cancer

Not only can eyes burn, but they can develop the same cancers that your skin can get (squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma and carcinoma) after prolonged or repeated exposure. Visual disturbances such as wavy lines and shadows may be the first signal that cancer is present.


Pterygium (pronounced tare-uh-JEE-um) is a yellowish, benign growth that forms on the white of the eye (sclera) and/or cornea. You may have heard it called “surfer’s eye,” but it doesn’t just happen to surfers. The growth occurs in people who spend a lot of time in the sun without eye protection and can cause pain and blurriness.


Sun worshippers are also prone to pinguecula, a growth that is similar to, and often mistaken for, surfer’s eye. The growths tend to appear in the sclera between the iris and the inner corner of the eye, where they can prevent an adequate tear film from lubricating the eye. While UV radiation is the most common cause of pingueculitis, it can also be caused by persistent dry eye disease and released exposure to dusty and windy environments.


Ultraviolet light can speed up the development of cataracts in people over 40. This is because it encourages proteins in the eye to clump together more quickly and cloud the normally clear lens.

Macular degeneration

The macula is the tissue at the center of the retina that allows your eyes to focus on what’s right in front of you. When eyes go unprotected from the UV rays in sunlight, damage to the macula can accelerate. This is called macular degeneration. The first symptoms include fuzziness in the center of your field of vision, blurry vision, farsightedness and, if left untreated, potential blindness.

How to protect yourself

These conditions can often heal on their own or with prompt treatment. To reduce your risk of getting them in the first place, take these simple measures:

  • Stay shady. Take cover under an umbrella or tree. Wear a baseball cap or wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face when shade isn’t available.
  • Avert your eyes. Avoid looking directly at the sun. You should also never look directly at sunlight reflecting off water, snow or glass.
  • Read labels. Only buy sunglasses with “100% UVB/UVA protection,” “UV 400 protection” or similar language on the packaging.
  • Be consistent. Wear your sunglasses every time you’re outdoors, even in wintertime or on cloudy days.
  • Get regular eye examinations. Your ophthalmologist can often spot sun damage to your eyes long before you do, even before symptoms develop.

With early intervention, you can keep these dangerous UV-related eye issues from taking hold or worsening. Your eye doctor will provide treatment and safety advice that can prevent potentially blinding damage from the sun’s rays.

As modern vision correction specialists, we at Kugler Vision are committed to serving our patients’ needs on the journey to a life free from visual barriers. Take the first step with a thorough eye analysis and find out if you qualify for Modern LASIK or one of our 6 other advanced vision correction treatments. Book online at LASIKOmaha.com.


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