(NewsUSA) – As you slather on sunscreen to protect your skin this summer, don’t forget to protect your eyes. Unlike other parts of your body, your eye’s lens does not repair itself when damaged by the sun’s rays — eventually this can lead to permanent eye damage.

“While intense UV exposure can cause temporary ‘sunburn’ on the eye’s surface, an even graver concern is cumulative, long-term effects,” said Richard P. Mills, MD in Seattle, Wash. “UV-A and B rays actually penetrate the cornea and damage the lens and retina, leading to increased risk for cataract and macular degeneration, so protection and getting an eye exam are vitally important.”

EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, provides eye exams and care at no out-of-pocket cost to people 65 and older. The eye exams are provided by a corps of nearly 7,000 volunteer ophthalmologists across the U.S. and in Puerto Rico. To see if you are eligible to receive a referral for an eye exam and care, visit www.eyecareamerica.org. This online referral center also enables friends and family members to find out instantly if their loved ones are eligible to be matched with one of EyeCare America’s volunteer ophthalmologists.

“I’m a low-income senior who needed an eye exam after many years of neglecting myself. Economically embarrassed, I was referred by EyeCare America, and received excellent, fast and courteous service,” said, Mr. Hansen, a recent EyeCare America patient. “I worked hard all my life and never dreamed I would be in a position of not being able to afford a simple exam.”

To protect your eyes this summer, EyeCare America offers the following advice:

When to wear sunglasses

Sunglasses should be worn anytime you are outdoors, particularly under these circumstances:

* During the summer, when the level of ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) is at least three times higher than during the winter;

* When at the beach or in the water;

* When participating in winter sports, especially at high altitudes;

* When using medications that can cause photosensitivity.

Taking measures to protect your eyes from the sun, as well as getting eye conditions detected early through an eye exam, can help slow or prevent total vision loss from diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. But not everyone has insurance or can afford eye exams, so visit eyecareamerica.org to see if you are eligible for an eye exam and care at no out-of-pocket cost.