How to Help Your Residents Enjoy Summer Sun Safely

by | Jul 15, 2021

After a long, hard winter, the warm summer sunshine is calling – especially for skilled nursing facility staff and residents who spent months inside in quarantine during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no surprise if the rising temperatures have your residents ready to head outdoors a little more often these days. And a little fresh air and vitamin D can be a good thing – for the hard-working members of your team, as well.

When venturing out with your residents, just remember to stay sun-safe, or you may all end up with the summertime blues. You already know that slathering on sunscreen and avoiding the sun when it’s at its strongest are important ways to protect your residents’ skin from harmful ultra-violet (UV) rays. But their skin isn’t the only thing that needs protection – UV rays can also cause significant damage to their eyes.

There’s no time like the present to make sure you and your residents are prepared for outdoor adventures. Let’s celebrate UV Safety Awareness Month in July by learning more about how to protect your residents’ eyes from the powerful rays of the summer sun. 

The Risks of UV Exposure

UV rays are an invisible form of radiation that comes from the sun. There are three types of UV rays, categorized by their different wavelengths – UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. UV-C and most UV-B rays are absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere, but UV-A and some UV-B rays penetrate the atmosphere and make it to the earth’s surface.[1]

We know exposure to UV rays is a leading cause of many skin cancers, but it can also cause damage to the eye’s surface tissues, cornea, lens[2] and retina.[3] Short-term overexposure to UV rays can cause bloodshot or swollen eyes, hypersensitivity to light, and photokeratitis, which is an inflammation of the cornea.[4]

Long-term exposure to UV rays, however, can be much more damaging for the eyes. Research has shown that long-term UV exposure without appropriate eye protection can increase the risk of developing cataracts, macular degeneration, and other chronic eye diseases; cause irreversible damage to the retina, and lead to the development of skin cancers around the eye[5] – in fact, 10% of skin cancers occur on the eyelid.[6]

It’s important to know that some people are at increased risk of eye health complications from exposure to UV rays: [7]

  • Your residents who’ve had cataract surgery may have a higher risk of eye damage from exposure to UV radiation and are advised to take additional precautions when they’re out in the sun. During cataract surgery, the lens of the eye that has become blurry or cloudy is removed, and an artificial lens is implanted. Studies have shown that implanted artificial lenses may absorb fewer UV rays than natural lenses, thus leading to more exposure to the eye.
  • If your residents are taking any medications that cause photosensitivity, they may also make their eyes more sensitive to the effects of UV rays. These medications include some antibiotics, antidepressants, and drugs used to treat chronic conditions like diabetes, auto-immune diseases, and some cancers.[8] If you’re concerned a resident may be taking medication that causes photosensitivity, talk with his or her treating physician before about what additional precautions you may need to take before heading outdoors.
  • Residents with age-related macular degeneration who receive photodynamic therapy are advised to stay out of the sun for several days after treatment.
  • Studies have also shown that people with lighter-colored eyes are more likely to develop certain eye cancers due to UV exposure than those with darker-colored eyes.

Ways to Block the Rays

The best way to protect your residents’ eyes from the harmful effects of UV rays is simple – make sure they wear UV-blocking eye protection whenever they’re outside. Sunglasses that offer proper sun protection don’t need to be expensive; just make sure they block 100% of both UV-A and UV-B rays or offer UV400 protection. If available, wraparound lenses work best because they can block out rays coming from all directions.

For extra protection, make sure your residents also wear a wide-brimmed hat. And remember, UV rays can pass through haze and clouds[9] – so, don’t just pull out the shades on bright, sunny days.


[1] https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/tanning/ultraviolet-uv-radiation

[2] https://www.verywellhealth.com/uv-eye-safety-3421853

[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/sunburned-eyes

[4] https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2019/sunglasses-eye-protection.html

[5]  https://www.verywellhealth.com/uv-eye-safety-3421853

[6] https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2019/sunglasses-eye-protection.html

[7] https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/eye-damage-from-uv-light

[8] https://www.goodrx.com/blog/avoid-the-sun-if-you-take-these-drugs/

[9] https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/sun

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