As Wimbledon Heats Up, Tennis Legend Reveals How The Sun Has Inflicted Sight Damage

Maria Esther Bueno

Maria Esther BuenoBrazilian TV star tennis pundit calls on Britons to recognise dangers of UV exposure following a career on the court

As the UK is gripped by Andy Murray’s quest to retain his Wimbledon title, world class tennis champion and Brazilian TV commentator Maria Esther Bueno has revealed how sun exposure endured during her long on-court career has compounded a heredity eye condition and left her with life-changing sight damage.

The 19-time Grand Slam winner, who is regarded as tennis royalty and was voted Athlete of the Year in 1959 by the Associated Press, is speaking out about sun exposure while she is in the UK as a guest of the All England Club.

Maria, aged 74, is celebrating fifty years since her 1964 Wimbledon singles title. She regularly commentates for Brazilian TV and has been plagued by sight issues, which have led to more than ten surgical procedures over the past twenty years.

As she visited Vision Express for further expert eye care, Maria explained how harmful UV exposure has led to a life-long struggle with her sight, with conditions including cataracts, glaucoma, dry eye syndrome and an issue whereby her eyes are unable to regulate light, arising from the various different surgeries.

She says: “I’ve spent so long playing tennis, being on the court for many hours each day, and while players are encouraged to protect their skin from sun exposure, the impact of UV on your eyes is ignored. Players are provided with skin cancer screening, yet nothing is done for their eyesight. Nobody ever suggested I played with sunglasses on because it just wasn’t done, but now there are specialist frames so there’s no excuse. Your sight is sensitive and so precious. Vision is everything.”

Maria was diagnosed with glaucoma, a family condition, in her thirties while still playing tennis at the highest level. Her vision has since steadily deteriorated, worsened by sun-related vision issues which placed additional pressure as Maria’s career saw her win more than 500 titles.

She now wears dark sunglasses in daylight to enable her to see more effectively.

“I’m very lucky that my own eye specialist, who is an expert in my rare form of glaucoma in Brazil, was able to bring my condition under control,” said Maria. “I used different drops over the years and became allergic to many, but now I only use false tears from time to time to help with dry eyes, which is amazing. Unfortunately my pupils no longer react to the light, which can cause problems, so good quality sunglasses are essential for me these days.”

Delivering this important health message, Maria added: “It’s impossible to convey how being unable to see properly significantly impacts your life, which is why I’m so passionate about getting the message across to protect your eyes and have regular check ups.

“Spectators wear sunglasses, but many players at every level are still unaware of the need to protect their eyes on court. The only ones who do wear frames on the tour to play do so because they already have a vision condition of some sort. For all the others, damage is being done through exposure to the sun, which is a real worry.”

Omar Hassan, Head of Professional Development at Vision Express says: “Maria’s story reinforces the need to raise awareness of how important it is to be sun safe. Sight loss has been named as one the most feared illnesses in the UK, yet few people protect their eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

“We want to encourage everyone to get into the routine of covering their eyes as they do their skin, forging good habits that could prevent sight problems such as cataracts, which are accelerated by the sun, in later life.”

Here, Vision Express provides its tips on sun protection:

•           Start young – up to 80% of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV will occur before the age of 18, according to a study by the World Health Organisation.

•           Be safe all year round – UV light is extremely damaging to the cornea and lens in the eye and can cause them to discolour and become opaque with age. Sun protection is crucial, not on only holidays and during the summer months, but throughout the year, even in winter sun. Polarised sunglasses offer the best protection and even contact lenses and non-sun glasses shield the sun.

•           Have regular eye examinations – the best way to protect eyes is by having regular check-ups, these will highlight any sight problems or damage and can determine other health issues such as high cholesterol and even diabetes.