Protecting your eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays is just as important as protecting them from impact
Ultraviolet rays are invisible waves of electromagnetic radiation produced by the sun. They are transmitted in waves towards the earth's surface and form part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum. UV rays are invisible to the naked eye with wavelengths shorter than that of visible light, but much higher energy levels.
UV is made up of 3 types of rays, UVA, UBV and UVC depending on the frequency of the waves. UVC rays have the highest energy levels with wavelengths of 100-280 nanometer (nm) but are absorbed by the earth's protective ozone layer. Both UVA and UVB rays penetrate the atmosphere and can cause conditions such as premature skin ageing, eye damage (including cataracts) and skin cancers.
UV rays can attribute to several different eye problems, including:
UV rays may lead to macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss for older Americans.
UV rays, especially UV-B rays, may also cause some kinds of cataracts. A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, the part of the eye that focuses the light we see.
Another UV-related problem is a growth called pterygium. This growth begins on the white of the eye and may involve the cornea. Eventually, the growth may block vision. It is more common in people who work outside in the sun and wind.
Skin cancer around the eyelids is also linked to prolonged UV exposure.
Corneal sunburn, called photokeratitis, is the result of high short-term exposure to UV-B rays. Long hours at the beach or skiing without proper eye protection can cause this problem. It can be very painful and may cause temporary vision loss.
Here are a few things people can do to cut their risk of eye damage from the sun:
Wear the right sunglasses
Look for those labeled “UV400” or “100 percent UV protection” when buying sunglasses. Less costly sunglasses with this label can be just as effective as the expensive kind. Darkness or color doesn’t indicate strength of UV protection. UV rays can go through clouds, so wear sunglasses even on overcast days. And while contacts may offer some benefit, they cannot protect the entire eye area from burning rays.
Don’t stare at the sun
Sun worshippers take note: directly gazing at the sun can burn holes in the retina, the light-sensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye needed for central vision. This condition is called solar retinopathy. While rare, the damage is irreversible.
Check your medication labels
Some medications can make the eyes more vulnerable to UV ray damage, according to a sun safety survey by the American Academy of Ophthalmologists. These include certain antibiotics, birth control and estrogen pills, and psoriasis treatments containing psoralen. Check the labels on your prescriptions to see if they cause photosensitivity. If so, make sure to protect your skin and eyes or avoid sun exposure when possible.
Put a lid on it
In addition to shades, consider wearing a hat with broad brim. They have been shown to significantly cut exposure to harmful rays. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Don’t drive without UV eye protection – Don’t assume that car windows are protecting you from UV light. A recent study found that side windows blocked only 71 percent of rays, compared to 96 percent in the windshield. Only 14 percent of side windows provided a high enough level of protection, the researchers found. So when you buckle up, make sure you are wearing glasses or sunglasses with the right UV protection.
Start with an eye exam
Before purchasing sunglasses, schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor near you. Even a small amount of refractive error or a small change in your glasses prescription can make a big difference in giving you the clearest, most comfortable vision outdoors.
Everyone enjoys a sunny day. But be safe and make sure you have the right sunglasses to shield your eyes from the sun's harmful UV rays.