It’s an oversight you will regret, even if it takes years to become apparent.
Working outdoors in the sun is already reason enough to protect your eyes from the sun, but working on a yacht makes it even more crucial. The sun’s glare off water and white ship hulls amplifies the harmful UV rays that maritime workers are receiving, increasing the likelihood of eye damage, according to Fort Lauderdale ophthalmologist Dr. Paul Gilwit.
“It’s a tremendous problem,” Gilwit said. “It’s like walking around with a sun reflector.”
The main side effect of maritime workers not protecting themselves from sun damage is dry eye, but this seemingly minor annoyance could lead to greater issues. This is because prolonged sun damage can also damage conjunctiva tissues, which make up the tear film of the eye.
“Once the tear film is damaged, the eye gets even more UV because the tear film is a protection for it,” Gilwit said.
Short-term effects include pterygium, also known as surfer’s eye. This is a growth on the surface of the eye that can grow into the cornea if not surgically removed. Long-term effects include the formation of cataracts. Problems may build up over years, so the need for concern is not often apparent to young crew.
“The damage from UV radiation just keeps building and building, it doesn’t go away,” Gilwit said. “The damage they create today will be reflected 30 years down the road.”
Sunglasses that wrap around the sides of your head offer the greatest amount of protection, according to Gilwit, but they’re not always in fashion.
“If wraparound sunglasses are in fashion that’s great, but if they’re out of fashion for a while and people don’t wear them, they don’t have protection,” Gilwit said. “That’s where glasses and fashion and health get a little mixed up.”
DID YOU KNOW…
- Cataracts and eye cancers can take years to develop. Each time you bask in the sun without eye protection, you increase your risk of serious disease. People of all ages should take precautions whenever they are outdoors.
- Growths on the eye, such as pterygium, can show up in our teens or 20s. Surfers, skiers, fishermen, farmers and others who spend long hours under the midday sun or near rivers, oceans and mountains are at risk.
- Snow blindness, a form of photokeratitis, can quickly develop after exposure to UV reflections from snow, ice, sand, or water. The damage to the front surface of the eye that causes this painful condition is unique because it can happen quickly. Like sunburns, you may not notice snow blindness until after you have damaged your eyes.
- Healthy exposure to sunlight can have positive effects, as long as you protect your eyes from UV damage. For example, the light-sensitive cells in our eyes play an important role in our body’s natural wake-sleep cycles, so a little natural light every day is necessary to help you sleep well.
- Normal sunglasses will not protect your eyes from certain light sources, such as tanning beds, snowfields, and arc welding. Special lens filters are required for these extreme exposure situations. Also, sunglasses do not protect you if you stare directly at the sun!
- If you wear UV-blocking contact lenses, you’ll still need sunglasses.
- Some people wonder if older sunglasses still protect your eyes from UV light. Research hasn’t directly answered the question of whether UV protection fades over time, but you can have your sunglasses tested. Simply take them to an optical shop that has a UV light meter to check the level of protection.
— American Academy of Ophthalmology
Check out what to look for when buying sunglasses here!