Most people are aware of how harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation is to the skin. However, many may not realize that UV rays can harm the eyes and affect their vision.
Exposure to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time can cause extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing. It can be painful and feel like a sunburn to the eye. The longer the eyes are exposed to UV radiation, the greater the risk of developing eye disorders such as cataracts or macular degeneration. Fortunately, sun protection and preventative options are available to offer UV protection.
Types of UV Radiation
There are three types of UV radiation:
UV-C rays are the highest energy UV rays, and potentially the most harmful to eye and skin health. Fortunately, it is absorbed by the ozone layer, virtually blocking all harmful UV-C rays. If, however, the ozone layer depletes, high-energy UV-C rays could potentially reach the earth’s surface and cause serious health problems.
UV-B rays emit lower energy than UV-C rays. These rays are partially absorbed by the ozone layer, but some still reaches the earth’s surface. In low doses, UV-B radiation can stimulate the production of melanin, causing the skin to darken. In higher doses, however, UV-B rays can cause sunburn that increases the risk of skin cancer, premature aging of the skin, and wrinkles.
In high short-term exposure, UV-B rays can also cause photokeratitis, a painful inflammation of the cornea.
UV-A rays have lower energy than UV-C and UV-B rays, but it can pass through the cornea and reach the lens and retina of the eye. Overexposure to UVA radiation can cause the development of cataracts and the development of macular degeneration.
How Do UV Rays Affect Eye Health?
Short and long term exposure to UV radiation can harm the eyes, affect vision, and compromise overall eye health. Eye diseases and conditions caused by exposure to UV radiation include:
- Macular Degeneration, also known as AMD, is caused by damage to the retina over time. It is the leading cause of age-related blindness and extended exposure to UV light may increase the risk of developing this condition.
- Cataracts are a condition in which the natural lens (the part of the eye that focuses on light we see) is clouded. Exposure to UV light, especially UV-B rays, increases the risk of contracting cataracts.
- Pterygium, also known as surfer’s eye, is a pink, non-cancerous growth that forms on the layer of conjunctiva. Exposure to UV light increases the risk of developing these growths.
- Skin cancer in and around the eyelids is also associated to extended UV exposure.
- Photokeratitis, also known as corneal sunburn, is the result of high short-term exposure to UV radiation, especially UV-B rays. Long hours at the beach without proper eye protection can cause this condition, and it can be very painful. It can also cause temporary vision loss.
Prevention and Treatment
We all use sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV rays. Protecting our eyes is just as important. Sun damage to eyes can occur anytime during the year, and prevention is the best treatment. Be sure to wear UV-blocking sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats whenever you are outside. Never look directly at the sun, which can damage the eye’s retina.
To provide adequate protection for your eyes, choose sunglasses carefully. They should:
- Block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation;
- Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light;
- Have lenses that are perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection
- Provides more coverage such as over-sized glasses
Additional precautions include:
- Do not use sunlamps, tanning beds, or tanning booths
- Wear UV-blocking goggles when surfing, swimming, or snowboarding
- Wear a wide brimmed hat when outdoors
- Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight by staying in the shade, especially between 10am and 4pm
If your eyes are ever impacted by UV rays to an extent that you believe could be causing vision problems, you need to see an eye doctor immediately. At Advanced Eye Medical, Dr. Ghosheh and the team of ophthalmologists and optometrists have been serving the Orange County area for years. Get in contact with us today!