In the middle of the summer season, isn’t surprising that July is UV safety awareness month. Did you know that, depending on the actual dose of UV light you receive, the sun’s ultraviolet rays can start to damage your skin and eyes in as little as 15 minutes? Sun damage is accumulative over time, meaning that the more times you step outside without adequate eye protection, the more you are adding to the effect that UV rays have on your eye health and vision. The consequences of UV damage can be significant and, in some cases, life-changing.
Protecting your eyes should be a priority, yet many people are unaware of the dangers of UV exposure. Here’s what you need to know about why UV protection is so important and how you can protect your eyes.
There are three types of UV light. These are known as UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC can’t penetrate beyond our atmosphere, so it has no effect on us. But UVA and UVB can reach us and have a range of harmful effects.
UVB is the type of UV radiation that most people are familiar with, primarily because it is closely associated with sunburn and skin cancer. When it comes to the eyes, UVB affects the clear, front part of the eyes called the cornea, causing a range of issues including sensitivity to light, excessive tearing, soreness, and irritation. While UVA also plays a role in skin cancer, it also penetrates more deeply into the body, causing cellular changes within. This means it passes through the cornea and into the deeper structures within the eye, such as the retina and macula.
There is a range of different conditions that are associated with prolonged or accumulative UV light exposure. These include the following:
This condition is characterized by a swelling or inflammation of the cornea, which covers the front part of the eye. It is also known as corneal sunburn or even snow-blindness since it causes a scorched effect. Some of the key symptoms associated with photokeratitis are generalized eye pain, blurred vision, light sensitivity, redness, and excessive tear film production. Most people can recover from photokeratitis with treatment, but it is debilitating while the patient is suffering from it.
There are several conditions caused by UV exposure that is characterized by growths on the eye. Two of the most common are pinguecula and pterygium. Pinguecula presents with a lump or bumps on the white of the eye that requires treatment in the form of eye drops. Pterygium growths also occur on the white of the eye but can grow large enough to invade the cornea and compromise patient vision. If it continues to grow, it can cause scarring of the cornea which could permanently affect your vision. If the pterygium is progressing, the growth will need to be surgically removed.
Cataracts are generally associated with older people, but anyone can suffer from them, and persistent sun exposure has been shown to make someone more likely to develop them at an earlier age. Cataracts are characterized by the clouding of the natural lens of the eye, forming opaque patches which obscure the patient’s vision. Cataracts are resolved through surgery, which sees the natural lens of the eye removed and replaced with an artificial alternative called an intraocular lens or IOL. Without treatment, the patient will eventually lose all vision.
Macular degeneration is another leading cause of vision loss and occurs when the cells of the part of the eye called the macula to deteriorate and die. The macula is found near the center of the retina, at the very back of the eye, and has the responsibility of providing us with color vision. It also enables us to make out fine details in our vision. Studies have found that macular degeneration can occur earlier and progress more quickly in patients who spend a lot of time exposed to UV light.
There are a few different things that you can do to protect your eyes from the harmful effects of UV light. Wearing the right sunglasses is by far the most effective. Not all sunglasses have the same UV light blocking abilities, so it is important to choose a pair that both look good and will keep your eyes safe. Look for a label or sticker on your chosen sunglasses that states that they have been tested and are rated as being 99-100% effective at blocking UV light. This may be listed as UV400 on the label. Choose a style that fits fairly close to your face as this will limit the amount of light that may be able to get in around them.
In addition to your sunglasses, you should also consider wearing a hat with a wide brim, especially in the middle part of the day when the sun is the highest. This will stop UV light from coming in over the top of your sunglasses and reaching your eyes. If you can, stay out of the direct sun in the middle part of the day altogether. It’s valuable to remember that UV light exists at all times, not just on sunny days. Wear sunglasses whenever possible when you spend time outdoors.
If you would like to know about UV protection or if you aren't sure which sunglasses to choose and you would like more advice, give our expert team in Sacramento, CA and Lincoln, CA a call today – they will be happy to help!