UV, or ultraviolet light, is a type of electromagnetic radiation that is produced by the sun, and by other manmade sources like tanning beds and welding torches. You can’t see it, but it can be extremely damaging to not only our skin but our eyes too. There are three types of UV light. UVC gets destroyed by our atmosphere before it can reach us and can cause us harm. However, UVB and UVA penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere and pass through it intact. Here are a few of the key facts that you need to know about UVB and UVA.
- Can’t pass through glass (i.e. windows)
- Causes tanning and eventually sunburn
- Is more intense during the middle of the day, in the summer and at high altitudes and near the equator
- Can cause skin cancer, including cancer of the skin around the eyes
- Will affect the transparent dome covering the front part of the eye, called the cornea
- Can pass through glass
- Is present all the time irrespective of the weather
- Is 20 times more prevalent than UVB
- Penetrates deep into the layers of the skin
- Damages the inner layers of the eye, and in particular the macula which is located at the very back of the eye
How do UV rays damage our eyes?
Studies have found that aside from the skin, the eye is the area of the body most susceptible to damage caused by UV light. There is a range of different eye conditions that can occur as a result of persistent exposure and these happen because of cellular changes triggered by the presence of ultraviolet radiation. These include:
Pterygium. A condition characterized by a growth that appears on the white part of the eye and can extend onto the cornea, obscuring your vision. These growths aren’t normally painful but can cause scarring of the cornea which could lead to permanent loss of vision. Surgery is necessary to remove pterygium growths.
Pinguecula. Another condition where patients experience a growth, this time which looks like a white or yellowish lump or bump that appears on the white of the eye. They can be irritating and uncomfortable and won’t go away without treatment.
Corneal sunburn. Also known as photokeratitis, patients who experience this condition can expect symptoms including pain, swelling and inflammation of the cornea, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision. Corneal sunburn is more common when patients have been affected by reflected UV rays, such as off snow or water, which can be much more intense.
Cataracts. Cataracts are typically associated with older people, but studies show that people who don’t properly protect their eyes are at risk of developing them earlier in life. They occur when proteins usually found evenly dispersed in the lens of the eye group together forming cloudy patches in your vision. There’s no permanent cure for cataracts, other than surgery to remove the lens and replace it with an artificial version.
Macular degeneration. Also associated with the older generation, macular degeneration is characterized by the breakdown of the cells of the part of the retina called the macula, which enables us to see details and colors. Again, patients who have been subjected to excessive UV exposure are at greater risk of developing macular degeneration earlier. Any vision lost cannot be restored, although many patients learn to live with low vision using aids such as magnifying glasses.
Preventing UV damage
It is important to be aware that UV damage is cumulative, meaning that it increases with age. For this reason, experts recommend that you start to protect your eyes from UV as early as possible. If you have children, they can benefit from adequate sun protection too. Some of the best ways to protect your eyes include:
- Wearing sunglasses that have been tested and are shown to block out 100% UV light.
- Choosing styles of sunglasses that offer the greatest light-blocking ability, such as wraparound designs and oversized lenses. You can even consider polarized or anti-glare lenses to make your eyes feel more comfortable in the bright sun.
- Wearing a hat with a wide brim or a baseball cap, which will prevent UV from coming in over the top of your sunglasses.
- Staying out of the sun in the middle part of the day when it is at its highest.
- Wearing SPF on the skin around your eyes.
If you would like advice on the best way to protect your eyes from the UV damage caused by the sun, Grin Eye Care and their knowledgeable eyecare specialists would be happy to help. Please call us to speak to us or to schedule an appointment.