The sun is a beneficial part of our lives, in moderation UV rays help us to get a good night’s sleep and may help to reduce the risk of nearsightedness in children.1 However, we have to be aware of the full impact of the sun’s UV rays so we can take better care of our eyes.
“UV radiation, whether from natural sunlight or indoor artificial rays, can damage the eye’s surface tissues as well as the cornea and lens,” said Michael Kutryb, MD, ophthalmologist and clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the dangers UV light can pose.”1
The sun emits three kinds of ultraviolet radiation:
UVA, UVB, and UVC.
UVC rays are the highest energy UV rays and potentially could be the most harmful to your eyes and skin. Fortunately, the atmosphere’s ozone layer blocks virtually all UVC rays. 2,3
UVB radiation is only partially blocked (the cornea and the lens absorbs most UVB rays) and can burn the skin and eyes. Overexposure to the sun’s UVB radiation also is associated with several eye problems, including photokeratitis or snow blindness, pinguecula, and pterygium. 2,3
UVA rays can hurt your central vision because they pass through the cornea to reach the lens and retina inside the eye. Overexposure to UVA radiation has been linked to the development of certain types of cataracts, and research suggests UVA rays may play a role in the development of macular degeneration. 2,3
Due to prolonged UV exposure adults experienced symptoms such as: Eye irritation (15.5 %), trouble seeing (13.5 %), wrinkles around the eye (8.3 %), red or swollen eyes (5.9 %), eyelid sunburn (3.7 %), sunburn of the eye (2.5 %) and cancer on or around the eye (.6 %).2
Yes, you can get a sunburn of the eye and eyelid. OUCH! Protect your eyes. 47.6% of adults do not protect their eyes from the sun’s rays simply because they forget to wear sunglasses.1
Zenoptiq and ComfortClear both help to reduce red or swollen eyes and aid in soothing eyelid sunburn. Add them to your eye health regimen to help protect your eyes against the effects of UV ray damage.
Some of the main issues that arise from prolonged UV exposure are cataracts, pterygium (or Surfer’s Eye), skin cancer, and corneal sunburn.
Cataract- UV rays, especially UV-B rays, may 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.3
Pterygium- This is a growth that begins on the white of the eye and may involve the cornea. Eventually, the growth could block vision. It is more common in people who work outside in the sun and wind.3
Skin Cancer- Due to the sensitive skin around the eye, skin cancer around the eyelids has been linked to prolonged UV exposure.3
Corneal Sunburn- Also known as 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.3
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Being aware of the risk factors of UV rays can help reduce your chances for overexposure.
Risk Factors include3,4:
- Geographic location- UV exposure is greater in tropical areas near the earth’s equator. The farther you are from the equator, the smaller your risk.
- Altitude- UV exposure is greater at higher altitudes.
- Time of day- UV exposure is greater when the sun is high in the sky, typically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 39.8% of Americans spend time outdoors between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
- Setting- UV exposure generally is greater in wide-open spaces, especially when highly reflective surfaces are present, like snow and sand. In fact, UV exposure can nearly double when UV rays are reflected from the snow. UV exposure is less likely in urban settings, where tall buildings shade the streets.
- Medications- Certain medications, such as tetracycline, sulfa drugs, birth control pills, diuretics, and tranquilizers, can increase your body’s sensitivity to UV radiation.
- Outdoors- The amount of time spent outdoors increases the risk for eye problems from UV radiation.
- Age- Younger children are more susceptible because a child’s ocular lens cannot effectively filter out UV rays, so more radiation reaches the retina and because UV damage is cumulative, it may lead to serious vision problems in the future.
- Reflected UV rays– Water, snow, concrete, and grass all reflect UV light, which can be just as damaging as direct UV. Water reflects up to 100%, Snow reflects up to 85%, dry sand and concrete reflect up to 25%, and grass reflects up to 3%.
Protection against the sun’s UV rays is also an essential part of reducing prolonged exposure.
Some ways to defend your eye against the sun’s UV rays include1:
- Wraparound Sunglasses- UV rays can come from many directions. Use only glasses that block both UV-A and UV-B rays and that are labeled either UV400 or 99-100% UV protection. Ideally, all types of eyewear, including prescription spectacles, contact lenses and intraocular lens implants should absorb the entire UV spectrum (UV-B and UV-A). Labels should be examined carefully to insure that the lenses purchased absorb at least 99-100% of both UV-B and UV-A. UV absorption can be incorporated into nearly all optical materials currently in use, is inexpensive, and does not interfere with vision. Also, remember to wear sunglasses even if you’re in the shade.
- Large-brimmed Hats- A wide-brimmed hat or cap will block roughly 50% of the UV radiation and reduces UV radiation that may enter above or around glasses.
- Knowing that clouds don’t block UV light- The sun’s rays can pass through haze and clouds.
- Knowing that time of year doesn’t reduce sun damage- Sun damage to the eyes can occur at any time of year, not just in summer. In fact, in winter, fresh snow can reflect up to 85 percent of UV rays, nearly doubling your overall exposure to solar UV radiation. Remember to wear sunglasses whenever you’re outside.
Becoming aware of what the sun’s rays can do is an important part of reducing your prolonged exposure. Use these tips to help protect your eyes and enjoy the outdoors at the same time. Live healthy, live smart.