Sun Exposure and Cataracts

As the days grow longer and warmer, it’s a great time to remind everyone that Sun Awareness Week takes place during the first week of May. We all love to bask in the glorious sunshine and soak up some much-needed vitamin D. But, it’s essential to remember that the sun’s rays also bring with them certain health risks.

We often hear about the dangers of skin cancer, but did you know that sun exposure can increase the risk of cataracts and other eye diseases as well? In today’s blog, we look at the connection between sun exposure and cataracts.

How does sun exposure increase the risk of cataracts?

Globally, cataracts stand as the primary reason for blindness. The condition occurs when proteins within the eye’s lens deteriorate and aggregate, leading to a clouded lens and eventual blindness in the impacted eye(s).

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays for extended periods can significantly heighten the risk of cataracts. As the sun’s UV rays penetrate the eye, they accelerate the degradation of proteins in the lens. This causes them to cluster together. This process obstructs light from passing through the lens, resulting in impaired vision.

Study reveals those most at risk of developing cataracts through sun exposure

A previous study examined the link between time spent outdoors and the likelihood of cataract surgery. The survey, part of the 45 and Up Study, involved 137,133 Australian participants, aged 45 to 65, with no prior cataract surgery. A questionnaire assessed their outdoor hours on weekdays and weekends, along with their tanning habits due to sun exposure. Cataract surgery cases were tracked through Medicare Benefits Schedule records from the study’s start until 2016.

Over an average of nine years, 14,338 participants underwent cataract surgery, resulting in a 10.5% incidence. The analysis revealed that more weekend outdoor time and increased tanning from sun exposure were significantly linked to a reduced cataract surgery risk. Weekday outdoor time had a nominal association.

Participants with more than 10 hours spent outdoors on weekends had a 9% lower risk compared to those with less than two hours. Additionally, those less prone to tanning had a 5% to 7% higher risk of cataract surgery compared to individuals who got very tanned.

How to keep your eyes protected this summer

To minimise the risk of cataracts due to UV exposure, it’s crucial to safeguard your eyes while in direct sunlight. Opt for hats and sunglasses that provide complete UVA and UVB protection. Wrap-around sunglasses are an excellent option, as they shield the periphery of your eyes from UV rays. Don’t forget to wear sunglasses in winter too. Even without the heat, UV rays persist and can reflect off surfaces like ice and snow.

If you do suspect you may have cataracts, or you have been diagnosed with the condition, early treatment can help reduce the risk of vision loss. When the impact of cataracts on your vision is affecting your quality of life, surgery is usually recommended. If you don’t have cataract surgery, then your vision loss can worsen.

Regular eye exams and following your optometrist’s recommendations are the best ways to ensure proper eye care. Book an appointment with Mr Zaid Shalchi, a specialist in the treatment of cataracts.