The Western Australian Eye Protection Study

Project Plan

In Western Australia we are very lucky to have a warm sunny climate and beautiful beaches, both aspects contributing to the fact that sun exposure is a large part of our culture. It is widely known that sun exposure has both beneficial and harmful effects on our bodies. Too little sun exposure is linked to a Vitamin D deficiency and too much sun exposure can lead to a risk of skin cancer. Similarly, the sun has both positive and negative aspects on the health of our eyes. Too much sun exposure can lead to an eye disease known as pterygium, a non-cancerous fleshy tissue that grows on the white part of the eye (as you can see in the picture below). If this growth progresses over the iris, it can affect vision. On the other hand, recent research has found that time spent outdoors reduces the risk of becoming short-sighted in adolescents.

Thus we have conflicting sun exposure messages!

Our research aims to investigate the levels of sun exposure that can reduce the risk of becoming short sighted, while also preventing skin cancer. Essentially, we are looking for the optimal balance of sun exposure that can reduce the risk of sun-related eye disease, while also preventing short-sightedness.

A photo of an eye with Pterygium vs Myopia.

A photo of an eye with Pterygium vs Myopia.

Why is this important you may ask? Short-sightedness (myopia) is a common vision disorder affecting more than 20% of Australians and over 90% of the Eastern Asian populations. Even with glasses and contact lenses, myopia can lead to irreversible blindness. But what about the adverse consequences of spending too much time outdoors? Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world!

Individuals participating in outdoor sports are often exposed to regular sun exposure. Wearing sunglasses and other sun protection, such as hats, is usually recommended for these individuals. However, eye protection is not practical for all sports, e.g. surfing, surf life-saving and sailing. We wish to examine several groups of adolescent and adult sporting participants and people involved in outdoor activities to:

  1.  Assess refraction (participant’s need for glasses)
  2. Measure levels of UV conjunctival autofluorescence, a biomarker of early sun damage to the eye
  3. Evaluate the use of eye protection and general sun protection

Through the use of a unique camera system developed by our group, we would like to identify early signs of sun damage on the white part of the eye fluorescence under ultraviolet light (see images below). Our research will also investigate not only the time spent outdoors, but the time of the day, and the use of sun protection such as sunglasses and hats. If you would like to know more about participating in our research please like our Facebook page.

A comparison photo an eye with evidence of UVAF and one with no evidence of UVAF.

A comparison photo an eye with evidence of UVAF and one with no evidence of UVAF.

The aim our research is to evaluate the prevalence of sun damage to the eye and short-sightedness, as well as sun exposure and sun protection behaviours amongst the Western Australian community.
Our research will be able to provide positive public health messages regarding eye health and sun exposure. Having the knowledge of an optimal sun balance for eye health will enable future generations of Australians to make informed choices regarding their outdoor activity and how it impacts their risk of developing short-sightedness and UV related exposure eye diseases.

Your Support

We need your support in two ways. A challenge that we face in this research is the recruitment of participants and their ability to give up their free time to have the eye examinations. However, we also face the challenge of having adequate research staff to complete the eye examinations. Therefore, we are asking for you to please donate to our research and assist in the employment of a research orthoptist who will be able to complete the eye examinations. A research orthoptist is a trained eye health professional who uses specialised diagnostic and imaging tools to analyse diseases of the eyes. In order for us to be able to develop sun exposure guidelines so that Australians can achieve the ideal balance to prevent short-sightedness while also minimising their risk of sun damage to the eye, it is important for us to be able to see as many Western Australians as possible. This will ensure the outcomes represent the outdoor sporting population in WA adequately. Your contribution will allow this to happen.

We would also like to invite all of you who are regularly active outdoors to come to the Lions Eye Institute for a FREE comprehensive eye examination and to complete our questionnaire. In order for us to be able to demonstrate the importance of being outside as a factor in influencing young people’s vision, we must examine a large number of individuals who participate in different outdoor activities and their use of eye protection while in the sun. For instance, we are interested in seeing outdoor sports people such as rowers, and cricket, tennis, AFL players amongst many others. If you would like to know more about how to participate in our research and what it involves, or to see where your sport is placed in the participation ranks, please click on the link http://www.mackeylab.org/eps. If you like to complete our questionnaires which asks about your general eye health and your time spent outdoors, you can undertake this first step online through our website by clicking on the link http://www.mackeylab.org/eps.


Image of blue eye by Ali T is licensed under CC BY 2.0