Most people are aware of the danger that ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can pose to the skin. What isn’t as well known is that UV rays can also cause damage to the eyes. Wearing sunglasses that block 100% of the harmful UV rays from the sun can help protect your eyes from developing future eye conditions. Keep in mind that UV rays can penetrate cloud cover, so sunglasses are important even on overcast days.
What are UV Rays?
Also known as solar radiation, UV rays are invisible, high energy rays produced by the sun and other artificial sources such as tanning beds. These UV rays contain radiation that can cause skin damage which can lead to premature aging and skin cancer. These rays can also be harmful to your eyes. In fact, repeated exposure can cause damage that can lead to vision loss.
What Types of Eye Problems Can UV Rays Cause?
The effects of UV radiation are cumulative. Protecting your eyes now can help protect your future eyesight. There are several eye conditions that can be caused or exacerbated by repeated exposure to UV rays such as:
Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the natural crystalline lens of the eye. Multiple studies have shown that UV rays from the sun actually promote the growth of certain types of cataracts. Although most people develop cataracts at some point in their life, repeated exposure to UV rays can cause cataracts to show up at a much younger age.
Macular Degeneration: AKA: AMD or ARMD, macular degeneration affects the macula which is the centermost portion of the retina responsible for acute vision tasks such as near vision. AMD is also the leading cause of of central vision loss for those aged 55 and older in the United States.
Skin Cancer: Skin cancer, which is linked to prolonged UV exposure, can affect the eye and the eyelids.
Pterygium: Sometimes referred to as “cowboy cataracts” these growths form on the conjunctiva which covers the white part of the eye. These growths can grow onto the cornea and eventually obstruct central vision. Much like cataracts, prolonged UV exposure promotes the growth of pterygia.
Photokeratitis: Also known as “snow blindness”, photokeratitis is essentially a sunburn of the cornea. Snow is a highly reflective surface for the harmful UV rays of the sun. This is a fairly common phenomenon which can be very painful. Sand and water are also highly reflective surfaces, so long hours spent waterskiing or at the beach can also cause photokeratitis.
Who is at Risk for UV Radiation Damage?
Everyone is at risk for eye damage from repeated exposure to UV radiation (including children), so everyone can benefit from protecting their eyes from UV rays. That said, there are some behaviors that put you at a higher risk of damage from UV rays such as using tanning beds or sunlamps. Certain medications that make you extra sensitive to sun exposure and people living at high altitudes or near the equator are at a higher risk as well. Participating in water and snow sports without protecting your eyes is another risk factor.
How Can you Protect Your Eyes from UV Light?
Wearing good quality sunglasses with UV400 protection when outdoors is your best defense against eye damage caused by UV radiation. UV400 filters block all light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers, which includes the harmful UV rays. Polarized lenses with UV 400 filters have the added benefit of decreasing glare.
So, before you go outdoors be sure to grab those sunglasses as well as the sunscreen!
This blog has been updated from its original version posted in March of 2017.