Sun Exposure and Altitude


People who live at high altitudes are at a greater risk for sun exposure to both their skin and their eyes. As a matter of fact, Colorado has some of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the country. While we know how important it is to wear proper sunscreen because we can feel the effects of too much sun on our skin, we don't always wear proper eye protection.

"19% of men and 15% of women in the U.S. say they don't protect their eyes from UV exposure because they don't believe they are at risk of UV damage." Source: 2013 VisionWatch Sunglasses Survey — The Vision Council

The sun emits both UV (ultra-violet) and HEV (blue) light. Too much HEV exposure can damage the retina in the back of the eye. The retina is the small area of tissues at the back of the eye that make sense of the light that is coming in through the pupil and transmits that information then to the optic nerve and then the brain. When the retina is damaged, you have impaired vision and this is damage that cannot be fixed or corrected. One of the most common causes of blindness is macular degeneration, an age-related condition that affects your retina. 

UV exposure can also cause cataracts, the clouding of the lens of the eye that also happens as we age as well as issues such as retinopathy and photokeratitis.

UV damage to your eyes is cumulative and we receive much of this damage by the time we are 18. Blue/green-eyed people also seem to be at a bigger risk for damage than those with brown eyes. 

It is very important to wear sunglasses that block 100% of the sun's rays every time you go outside in all seasons, particularly for those of us who live in higher altitudes. Keep in mind that it winter, we have additional rays reflecting off of the snow, so it's very important to wear wrap-around or large sunglasses to shield our eyes as much as possible. 

Talk to your optical expert at Fort Collins Family Eye Care to make sure that your sunglasses block 100% of the sun's harmful rays. We also typically recommend sunglasses with polarization as you get less glare and more true vision, a must when you're experiencing the great outdoors in Northern Colorado. 

Don't forget about the skin around your eyes. Because the skin tends to be very thin around your eyes, that area can be prone to sunspots and damage. Dr. Munson is always looking for suspicious lesions or signs of melanoma. A great sunscreen is a must and we have some fantastic eye-friendly products available at the Eye Spa.

Whether you're a ski fanatic, enjoy hiking, or just getting out for some fresh air, it's important to make sure that you're protected when enjoying the sunny Colorado days. If you have any questions at all about your current sun protection or would like to know more, ask one of our opticians or Dr. Munson about the best ways to protect your eyes.