“Here comes the sun,” the Beatles sang, “and it’s all right” – though perhaps they should have substituted, “and if you don’t protect yourself, you can jolly well get a nasty sunburn and skin cancer and even long-term, irreversible eye damage.”
OK, we here at Rebuild Your Vision are clearly not in the running for a Grammy award. But as you head outside this month to weed your garden, skipper your sailboat, picnic in the park, or just head to work and back, here’s what you need to know to be all right in the summer sun.
Fun Sun Facts
Children often draw the sun as a bright yellow circle that dominates everything else in the picture. Although the sun as seen in outer space is more white than yellow, the kids have got it right: the sun is by far the largest object in the solar system, containing 99.8% of the system’s mass.
The sun’s white hue is symbolically apt. By human standards, it is ancient – about 4.5 billion years old. By its own standards, though, it is only middle-aged and will continue to radiate for perhaps another 5 billion years. During that time, its brightness will double. (And you thought you had it bad? Just think about the air-conditioning bills, not to mention that future generations will probably have to mow their lawns in a space suit.)
The surface of the sun, called the photosphere, has a temperature of about 5,800 Kelvin. That’s 9,980 degrees Fahrenheit to you and me. And it gets even hotter: the temperature at the sun’s core hovers around 15.6 million Kelvin. (The sun’s heat is produced by thermonuclear reactions that convert hydrogen to helium.) The light from the sun can cause bleaching of the retina’s photosensitive pigments, causing temporary partial blindness – which is why we are taught not to look directly at the sun.
The Sun Gets in Your Eyes
If these facts aren’t enough to convince you to slather on the sunscreen and slap on some shades, consider the following.
The damage to your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays is cumulative and can cause pteryguim (tissue growth on the whites of the eyes that can diminish vision) and age-related macular degeneration (deterioration of a part of the retina).
In addition, UV rays are the biggest culprit in the formation of cataracts. The World Health Organization estimates there are 16 million people worldwide who are blind as the result of cataracts, and as many as 20% of the cases may be due to UV radiation exposure.
With all that said, we know how relaxing and therapeutic the “sunning” technique that was originally introduced by Dr. Bates. The sun is also an excellent source of vitamin D, not to mention a big lift to a “post-winter” soggy moral! Enjoy it in moderation, and protect yourself from it the rest of the time.
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Protect Your Eyes from Sun Damage
The best way to protect yourself from the sun is to stay out of it! This is not possible for most of us, so here are a few tips.
- UV radiation penetrates cloud layers, so protect your eyes even if you can’t see the sun.
- UV rays are most intense at midday, so try to avoid the sun between 10 am and 2 pm.
- As with businesses, location matters: the higher your altitude, and the closer you are to the equator, the stronger the UV rays.
- Likewise, snow, sand, and water reflect light more strongly. Take extra precautions if you are at these places.
- Choose a good pair of sunglasses (see sidebar). And wearing a broad-brimmed hat doesn’t hurt either.
- Light-colored eyes need more protection than dark ones.
- Don’t forget the little ones: children’s eyes are more vulnerable to sun damage.