How to look after your eyes in the sun

The story goes that one day, while routinely observing the sun through his telescope, Galileo, the great polymath astronomer, was instantly blinded in both eyes by its intense solar rays.

And so, just like that, the father of modern physics and one of the greatest minds of recent times lost his sight, rather poetically, doing what he loved most. But this story is nothing more than that — a story. Did you spot the telltale sign?

Telescopic observers going blind in both eyes is pretty much unheard of, for the simple fact they use a telescope and habitually use one eye for their observations. The truth of what happened to Galileo is a lot more mundane and every day: he became blind as an old man of 72, from a combination of cataracts and glaucoma.

But history hangs on to a doctored version of the facts. I mean, scorched while sungazing is a much more heroic way to lose your vision than gradually to cataracts. And as Galileo spent much of his life staring at the giant ball of raging nuclear energy, it’s not that hard to believe. But it simply didn’t happen. And just as it didn’t happen to the great star-gazer, the likelihood of you going blind from looking at the sun is pretty slim.

However, that’s not to say the sun didn’t do him some serious damage. Regular direct sun observations likely played a big part in the degeneration of his eyesight. But even so, Galileo was smart (to say the least), and he avoided much of its harmful effects by approaching his work with extreme care and caution.

For Galileo understood the sun in all its immensity and had much respect for it; a sense of wonder and awe captured beautifully in this quote of his: “The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.”

And as Galileo points out, you don’t have to be a star gazer to experience its incredible power and beauty. Reaching a temperature of 15 million degrees Celsius and accounting for 99.86 percent of the mass in the entire solar system, the sun affects all life on this planet — and in fact is the very reason for it. And just as easily as it has brought life, it can take it away. So in order to live in harmony with the giant benevolent yellow dwarf star, we need to take the right precautions and measures to keep ourselves, and in particular our eyes, safe:

It’s never too early to start protecting your eyes from the sun

Some experts believe as much as 80 percent of our lifetime’s exposure to UV rays is received before we’re 18. This is thought to be as children’s eyes transmit more UVA rays to the retina than adults, and may also be impacted by the amount of time they spend in the sun without protection. Hats and class one UV-blockers are the best forms of protection, as well as a solid education about the dangers.

Wear good quality sunglasses to protect your eyes from UVA, UVB, and HEV rays

Ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B and the most harmful form of light from the sun. They’re considered a major cause of cataracts and skin cancers and to play a big part in macular degeneration. High-energy visible light, also known as ‘blue light’, can lead to similar problems, with recent studies showing it penetrates the skin even deeper than UV rays.

Look after your eyes year-round, even on cloudy days or when in the shade

Although shade and clouds reduce exposure to some degree, your eyes will still be exposed to UV rays that have leaked through and/or been reflected from buildings, roadways, and other surfaces.

Expose your eyes to these rays over many years, even with your eyelids closed, and you run the risk of serious vision problems including cataracts, cancer, intraocular melanoma, and macular degeneration. Wear a hat with at least a 3-inch brim and wear wrap around glasses to protect your eyes and as much of the delicate skin around them as possible.

Have a question about keeping your eyes healthy this summer? Ask us in the comments below! Or, if you’d like to find out how Laser Eye Surgery could benefit you, contact one of our friendly Patient Care Coordinators.