Protect Your Eyes From The Sun

Most Americans Unaware that Common Drugs, Light-Colored Eyes Can Increase Vulnerability to UV-Related Eye Disease

Results of American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Harris Poll show need for greater awareness of factors that increase sun sensitivity 


The American Academy of Ophthalmology has released results of a Harris Poll, which  shows that a majority of Americans are unaware that taking common drugs and having light-colored eyes can make people more vulnerable to UV exposure, a contributing factor to certain eye diseases and conditions. In support of UV Safety Month this May, the Oklahoma Academy of Ophthalmology is reminding people of the importance of protecting eyes from damaging UV rays.

Studies have shown that, in addition to skin cancers, accumulated ultraviolet exposure from the sun can heighten the risk of eye diseases such eye cancer and cataracts, a leading cause of blindness worldwide. Intense UV exposure can also cause temporary blindness known as photokeratitis, while extended sun exposure is linked to growths such as pterygium, or surfer’s eye.

 To assess how much Americans know about eye health risks posed by UV rays and what people do to protect themselves, the American Academy of Ophthalmology – the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons – commissioned a national Harris Poll of more than 2,000 adults. The results revealed two major gaps in UV safety knowledge: 

  • One-third of adults use medications that may increase photosensitivity, or increased susceptibility to damage from UV rays. However, 49 percent are unaware or do not believe those medications can cause photosensitivity. These photosensitizing drugs[1] include antibiotics containing tetracycline or floroquinolones (like Cipro), some birth control and estrogen pills and certain anti-inflammatory pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).[2] 
  • More than half (54 percent) of Americans have light-colored eyes (blue, green or hazel). Yet, only 1 in 3 (32 percent) of those with light eyes and 29 percent of all polled know light eyes are more susceptible to UV damage. While people with eyes of any color can develop UV-related eye diseases, light eyes and sun exposure are associated with an increased risk of rare eye cancers, such as iris and uveal melanomas.[3]

Ophthalmologists recommend that all individuals – especially those with increased photosensitivity – wear 100 percent UV-safe sunglasses. While the survey found that 83 percent of Americans wear sunglasses, only half (47 percent) said they check for a UV protection label before buying them. Also, less than a third (32 percent) make their kids wear UV-blocking sunglasses.

“Wearing 100 percent UV-protective sunglasses is one of the easiest and the most important things children and adults can do to protect their eye health,” said ophthalmologist Anne Sumers, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “It isn’t just about fashion or comfort – it’s about preserving your sight! So make wearing sunglasses a priority, especially if you have light eyes, work outdoors or take certain medications.”

Tips to Protect Your Eyes

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the following tips to protect the eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation: 

  • Choose glasses that block 100 percent of UV rays.  Use only glasses that block both UV-A and UV-B rays and that are labeled either “UV400” or “100% UV protection.” Don’t go by darkness of the lenses, which doesn’t indicate strength of UV protection. Close-fitting wraparound styles offer the best coverage.
  • Wear sunglasses even if it’s cloudy. Damaging UV rays go through clouds and can burn skin and eyes even when the sky is overcast.
    • Put a lid on it. Wear a hat with a wide brim as well as sunglasses and sunscreen. Studies have shown hats decrease the risk of eye disease related to extended UV exposure.[4]
    • Pills and rays don’t always mix.  Certain medications may cause increased sensitivity to sunlight, so take extra precautions if using those treatments.
    • Watch out for sun, sand and water. When at the beach or in the pool, remember that rays reflected off sand, water or pavement can burn your eyes.
    • Don’t rely on contact lenses. Contact lenses may have UV protection but cannot protect the entire eye area from burning rays that can increase risk of disease and blindness. Remember your sunglasses, which provide more coverage.  

The American Academy of Ophthalmology promotes UV safety throughout the year. Learn more about how to protect your eyes, get additional sunglasses shopping tips, and view the new Sun Smart UV Safety infographic at the Academy’s public education website, GetEyeSmart.org. 

About the Survey

Harris Poll conducted the survey online within the United States on behalf of the American Academy of Ophthalmology between March 31 and April 2, 2014, among 2,027 adults ages 18 and over who reside in the U.S. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and complete definition of direct selling, please email [email protected].

[2] Poll results showed:          

  • 86 percent did not know some birth control and estrogen pills could increase vulnerability to the sun’s rays
  • 83 percent polled did not know some anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) have also been associated with photosensitivity, though the reaction is rare
  • 72 percent did not believe antibiotics containing tetracycline or floroquinolones (like Cipro) can make individuals photosensitive

[4] Sandra, C. et al. Arch Ophthalmol. 2004;122(5):750-757