Woman in sunglasses on beach

Woman in sunglasses on beach

A group of optometrists has warned that Winter UV exposure can lead to a greater risk of cataracts, and skin cancers around the eyelids.

Queensland residents are being warned to be more vigilant about protecting their eyes in winter as lower sun angles and UV exposure on unprotected eyes put them at greater risk of cataracts, and skin cancers around the eyelids.

A group of Queensland optometrists is calling on locals to protect their eyes from potentially dangerous UV exposure, even though the sun may not be at its strongest.

“Eyes are exposed to UV radiation every day of the year, especially somewhere that gets year-round sun like here, and winter can be a more dangerous time than any other because of the lower angle of the sun in the sky,” says Andrew Gospos, of Medispecs Optical in Robina.

Despite UV levels being higher in spring and summer, eyes are naturally shaded during the hotter months as they are deep set – and thus partially protected when the sun is high in the sky. However, this means there can be more direct exposure on winter days when the sun sits lower.

Patrick Egan, from Murwillumbah Optometrist, says the risk is compounded by a more casual attitude towards sunsmart behaviour as the weather cools. “People relax their guard in winter, thinking that the ambient temperature is equivalent to UV levels,” says Egan.

“Summer messages for UV protection such as wearing sunglasses and hats are not in the front of their mind, but UV rays are still present and can still do harm.”

“Virtually everyone living here is out and about a lot, leading active lifestyles, so everyone is at risk of UV exposure,” adds Gospos. “Even people who are just out taking a walk on the beach every morning need to be aware of it.”

Children are particularly in danger of UV exposure, according to another optometrist in the group, Andrew Bowden, from Envision Optical in Burleigh. “Kids are especially at risk because they spend significant time outdoors playing and wear sun protective lenses much less commonly than adults do,” he says.

UV damage to eyes is cumulative and irreversible, and is believed to contribute to several serious eye conditions that can result in vision loss, including cataracts and corneal degeneration.

It is also considered a cause of skin cancer around the eyes and eyelids, which accounts for 5-10% of skin cancer patients.

“You can protect your eyes from UV exposure by wearing high quality sunglasses that block UVA and UVB whenever you are exposed to sunlight all year round,” says Gospos. “Make sure that you get good quality sunnies for the kids too. Lenses that have a UV resistant coating on the front and back offer excellent protection.”

Bowden adds that all Queenslanders should put on their sunglasses when they are outdoors for any length of time. “They should also ensure that if they wear prescription glasses, the lenses have UV protection built in as a standard feature,” says Bowden.

“Given the amount of outdoors time we spend here, plus the in and out of office moments throughout the day that all add up in the long term, UV protection is essential in your glasses.”

With an estimated 3 million people going blind every year due to prolonged UV exposure, it’s important for everyone to take further steps to look after their eyes, they say.

If you are concerned about UV exposure, or need advice on the best kind of eyewear for you based on your lifestyle, talk to an optometrist to see what might suit you best.