Local, News, Optometry, Research

More than half of Aussies unaware the sun causes permanent eye damage

New research commissioned by a major optometry provider has found 60% of Australians aren’t aware the sun can cause permanent eye damage through conditions such as cataracts, cancer or macular degeneration.

While 92% of the population is concerned about long term damage to their body, the YouGov study – conducted on behalf of Specsavers – also revealed the eyes tended to be forgotten, with only 35% worried about long-term eye damage from the sun.

With Australia having one of the highest levels of UV light and rates of skin cancer in the world, optometrists around the country are now calling on Aussies to be more sun smart and have their eyes checked if they suspect an issue.

“The reality is that living in Australia means that we can be exposed to dangerous levels of UV radiation when we’re outside, even when it’s not bright and sunny,” Specsavers optometrist Ms Greeshma Patel said, in light of the survey that comprised a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Australians aged 18 years and older.

Specsavers optometrist Ms Greeshma Patel says Aussies need to be educated on potential long-term eye damage and what they can do to prevent it.

“While our eyelids are designed to protect our eyes, the skin around our eyes is very thin and contains fragile tissues that can easily be damaged by UV light. UV damage to the eye and eyelid increases risk of serious conditions such as eyelid skin cancers, intraocular melanoma, conjunctival cancers, cataracts, macular degeneration and more.”

Unlike regular skin – where sun damage may be more visible – Patel said symptoms can be less noticeable in and around the eyes.

“People may not realise that symptoms such as redness, blurry vision, swelling, light sensitivity, seeing halos and experiencing watery eyes can all be possible symptoms of sun damage to the eyes,” she added.

Sunglasses and lenses

In other findings, the data showed two fifths of Aussies admit they don’t wear sunglasses most of the time when they’re outside. Most also don’t have lenses that provide the right level of protection with less than half (47%) owning sunglasses with any kind of UV protection, and 39% unsure of the protection of their sunglasses.

“Most patients I’ve seen don’t know what to look for in sunglasses when it comes to sun protection. The same way you put on sunscreen and a hat to protect your body, you should ensure you are wearing sunglasses that block out UV,” Patel said.

“I would recommend sunglasses that have polarised lenses because they not only offer 100% UV protection for your eyes but they also eliminate 99.9% of glare caused by reflected light.”

Around half of Aussies think they only need to wear sunglasses when it’s sunny and during the middle of the day.

“Many people believe that sunglasses only need to be worn on a hot sunny day at the beach for example, but regardless of whether it’s clear skies and high temperatures or not, as a preventative measure you should be wearing them every time you’re outside. Even if it is an overcast day, UV rays are still present so we also want to encourage good sun safe habits for years to come,” Patel says.

Other findings   

  • Gen Z have the worst sun smart habits:
    • Gen Z (54%) are less likely to wear sunglasses to protect themselves from the sun compared to the other generations (70% Millennials, 76% Gen X, 79% Baby Boomers and 85% Silent).
    • Gen Z (18%) are more likely to never wear sunglasses when outside compared to the other generations (6% Millennials, 8% Gen X, 6% Baby Boomers and 4% Silent).
    • Gen Z (17%) are more likely to not own any sunglasses compared to the other generations (8% Millennials, 11% Gen X, 7% Baby Boomers and 4% Silent).
  • People living in NSW (54%) are the least likely to wear sunglasses all or most of the time when outside compared to those living in other states (56% VIC, 58% TAS, NT & ACT, 63% SA & QLD and 69% WA)
  • People living in VIC are less likely than those living in other states to think that it’s important to wear sunglasses on a cloudy/overcast day (26% v 36%), in the morning (39% v 45%), in the middle of the day (50% v 59%) or in the afternoon (48% v 52%)
  • Aussies who live in rural/ regional areas are more likely than those living in urban/ metropolitan areas to say it’s important to wear sunglasses in the morning (48% v 40%), in winter (42% vs 32%) and on a cloudy/overcast day (39% vs 31%).