Sun. We all love it. It is the source of our suntans, days at the beach, and that good-for-you vitamin D. We all know by now that it is also the source of the UV rays that can cause skin cancer. So we slather on the sunscreen and go about our lives. However, there is one other danger the sun poses to our body – specifically, to our eyes. Most of us don’t really think about the sun impacting our eyes much. We wear sunglasses, after all, isn’t that enough? But unfortunately it isn’t.
Problems Related to UV Radiation
Unlike our skin, our eyes don’t develop cancer when exposed to UV rays, but there are a host of other problems that can occur. UV radiation is one of the main causes of cataracts. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Some studies show that macular degeneration may be linked to UV ray exposure as well. HEV light (or high-energy visible light, sometimes called blue light) has also been implicated as a cause of macular degeneration.
Children especially need protection from the sun since they are more susceptible to retinal damage than adults are. It’s estimated that as much as 25% of our lifetime exposure to UV radiation occurs when we are children.
Other types of damage include pinguecula, pterygia (surfer’s eye), and photokeratitis (a condition in which the cornea is sunburned, often referred to as snow blindness.)
Pinguecula (which is a thickening on the white part of the eye) is most common among adults that spend a large amount of time in the sun, but it has been found in children as well. It often doesn’t have symptoms, but it can cause irritation and inflammation that can become severe enough to interfere with vision.
Pterygia (surfer’s eye) refers to a benign (non-cancerous) growth that affects people who spend a great deal of time outdoors (most commonly surfers and outdoor enthusiasts, hence the name). The growth often does not interfere with vision but it can sometimes cause permanent disfiguration to the eye.
Photokeratitis (including snow blindness) is essentially a sunburn of the cornea. It occurs because of the reflective nature of snow, sand and water. Snow can reflect up to 80% of UV rays. Photokeratitis can also be caused by artificial sources of UV rays like tanning beds. Photokeratitis symptoms include tears, severe pain, and temporary blindness.
Appropriate UV Radiation Protection
Your eyes need UV protection like the rest of your body. The best way to get that protection is to use sunglasses that have a special coating to block UV rays. Your optometrist can help you find the right sunglasses with the appropriate amount of UV protection. Your optometrist can also evaluate a pair of sunglasses you already own so you can find out just how much UV protection your sunglasses provide.
When buying sunglasses you should look for lenses that offer 99% or 100% protection from both UVA and UVB rays. It is also good to look for lenses that block HEV (high-energy visible light or blue light). These are sometimes referred to as ‘blue-blocking’ lenses. Lenses that block blue light are tinted amber. Lenses that block UVA and UVB rays can be any color. You don’t get more protection from UV rays from darker lenses, so keep that in mind when purchasing sunglasses.
Standard prescription eyeglasses are also treated with protective coatings as are some contact lenses. It is important to remember that when you are outside – wearing either standard prescription glasses or contact lenses – your whole eye is not getting enough protection from the sun. You need to protect your eyes from every angle, and standard prescription glasses are not large enough to do that. Contact lenses only protect the part of the eye they cover (the iris and the pupil). Wearing sunglasses with UV protection that are also close-fitting or wraparound style are the best option and provide the most amount of protection from UV rays.
You might also consider standard prescription glasses or contact lenses that block HEV light as well UV rays, since HEV light is prevalent indoors as well. It comes mostly from our digital devices and flat screen televisions with OLED screens.
Your optometrist can help you choose UV blocking lenses that are right for you, both for indoors and outdoors.
For more information on your eye health or to schedule a comprehensive eye exam, call Redding’s family-focused optometrist, Kristi Davis, O.D. At 530.222.7271.
For more information about your eyes and UV radiation see: