Eye Diseases Linked to Sun Damage

Old woman's cataract

Eye Diseases and Conditions Linked to Sun Damage

Skin cancer isn't the only health problem caused by spending too much time in the sun. Your eyes are also susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun. If you don't protect your eyes from the sun's rays, you may be more likely to develop these eye diseases and conditions.


A cataract occurs when the clear lens inside your eye becomes cloudy. The lens, located inside the eye behind the iris, bends and focuses ultraviolet (UV) light rays onto the retina. The retina, a layer of light-sensing cells at the back of the eye, changes light rays into electrical impulses and sends them to the brain for processing.

A cataract makes it difficult for the lens to do its job properly. The cataract scatters light rays or stops them from reaching the retina.

If you have a cataract, you may notice:

  • Blurry or Double Vision
  • Faded Colors
  • Halos Around Lights
  • Difficulty Seeing at Night or in Dim Lighting
  • Trouble with Glare
  • More Frequent Changes to Your Eyeglass or Contact Lens Prescriptions

Age-related changes to the eye are a common cause of cataracts, although lifelong exposure to sunlight could increase your risk. A 2014 National Eye Institute-funded research study performed by Case Western Reserve researchers revealed that UV light damages proteins in the lens, causing cataracts to form.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

AMD damages or destroys cells in the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central and color vision. The eye disease is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC expects AMD cases to increase from 48 million to 88 million by 2050.

Symptoms of AMD include:

  • Blurry Central Vision
  • Blank Spots in the Central Vision
  • Straight Lines That Appear Wavy
  • Faded Colors
  • Difficulty Seeing Well in Dim Light

AMD makes it hard to drive safely, recognize faces, read, and do many everyday tasks. The amount of sun exposure your eyes receive throughout your life affects your AMD risk, according to a research study published in Retina in 2014. The researchers noted that sun exposure after retirement is less likely to be a factor in AMD.


Severe eye pain after spending the day at the beach or on the ski slope can be caused by photokeratitis. The condition is similar to sunburn and affects the cornea, the clear, rounded tissue that covers your iris and pupil.

In addition to pain, photokeratitis symptoms may include:

  • Red Eyes
  • Watery Eyes
  • Blurry Vision
  • Headaches
  • Gritty Feeling in the Eyes
  • Sensitivity to Light
  • Halos Around Lights
  • Twitchy Eyelids

Growths on the Eye

Pterygia and pinguecula are two types of growths that appear on the whites of the eye and usually affect people who spend a lot of time in the sun. In some cases, the growth can grow over the cornea, interfering with vision.

The growths may be yellow, fleshy, or look like a small bump. Ptergyia and pinguecula can be accompanied by:

  • Redness and Swelling on the White Part of the Eye
  • Blurry Vision
  • Gritty Sensation in the Eye

What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk of Sun-Related Eye Diseases and Conditions

These tips will help you protect your eyes:

  • Wear Sunglasses Year-Round. Buy sunglasses that block 99% of ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Wrap-around frames and goggles offer the most protection from the sun.
  • Put on a Hat. Pairing sunglasses with a hat boosts your protection. Hats with wide brims keep the sun off your face and help you protect your eyes.
  • Embrace the Shade. Bring an umbrella to the beach, find a shady spot to people watch, and seek out the shady side of the street. Limiting the amount of time you spend in the sun lowers your risk of skin cancer and eye diseases and conditions.
  • Grab Your Goggles. Goggles reduce the likelihood of eye injuries and irritation when you swim, play sports or do work around the house. They also protect your eyes from the sun if they contain lenses that block UV rays. Do you wear eyeglasses or contact lenses? Ask your ophthalmologist about prescription goggles.

Concerned about your risk of sun damage? Follow these tips and make yearly eye exams in our office a priority.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Learn About Age-Related Macular Degeneration

American Academy of Ophthalmology: What Is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium (Surfer's Eye)?, 11/22/2021

PubMed: Retina: History of Sunlight Exposure Is a Risk Factor for Age-Related Macular Degeneration, April 2016

National Eye Institute: New Research Sheds Light on How UV Rays May Contribute to Cataract, June 3, 2014

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