Slip, slop, slap

The Australians are definitely more clued up than us on one thing – sun protection. Their public health campaign slip, slop, slap told everyone down under to ‘slip on a shirt, slop on suncream and slap on a hat’. But what are the effects of those dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays on the eyeballs of we sun-starved people living in the UK? Surprisingly more than you’d think. The sun is lower in the sky here in the UK than in countries near the equator. This means that the UV rays can get directly into the eye as they aren’t shielded by your brow.

But you can’t burn your eyes, can you? Yes, you can. In fact, UV exposure can contribute to lots of eye problems: cancerous growths on the eyelids; unsightly yellow lumps on the white of the eye, called pterygia; clouding of the lens of the eye, known as cataract; and macular degeneration, an ageing problem where there is damage to the centre of the retina. Just as it causes premature ageing in the skin, UV causes premature ageing in the eyes.

So, get a good pair of sunglasses, preferably with large, wrap-around lenses. The colour or darkness of the lenses is down to personal preference and their intended use but do make sure they have good UV protection; look for the CE standard mark or British Standard BS EN ISO 12312-1:2013. Your optometrist will be able to tell you about the different colours of tint that suit the sports and activities you like to do. Some very dark sunglasses are not suitable for driving.

Polarised lenses look the same as ordinary sunglass lenses but they cut out more reflected light from shiny surfaces, so they feel much more relaxed and comfortable, especially when the sun bounces off a wet road when driving. Polarised lenses are especially good for water sports, fishing and skiing.

If you prefer you can get photochromic lenses from your optometrist which provide good UV protection but also lighten and darken according to the amount of UV bouncing around on the day.

Some contact lenses offer UV protection too. But don’t forget they will only protect the parts of the lens they cover, so you’ll still need sunglasses to protect the eyelids and a wide-brimmed hat is recommended too.

While I’m at it…NEVER EVER look directly at the sun, even with sunglasses on. A solar burn to the retina cannot be repaired and can happen in a matter of seconds. There’s no pain, just permanent blindness. Be careful.

Ceri Smith-Jaynes
BSc(Hons) MC Optom Dip SV