By Kelly McLain, O.D.
Board Certified Optometric Physician
Most people understand the link between ultraviolet (UV) radiation and skin cancer. It is important that just as many are aware of the connection between UV radiation and eye damage. In this month’s blog, we will discuss the dangers UV light can cause to the health of the eye. The sun’s primary danger to us comes in the form of UV light or radiation. Artificial sources like welding machines, tanning beds, and lasers can also give off UV radiation.
Both long and short-term exposure to UV radiation can harm the eyes, affect vision, and compromise overall eye health. There are several eye diseases and conditions caused by exposure to UV radiation such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, pterygiums, skin cancer, and photokeratitis. AMD is caused by damage to the retina over time, and is the leading cause of age-related blindness. Extended exposure to UV light increases your risk of developing as well as the progression of AMD.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. The lens is the part of the eye that focuses the light we see. It is estimated that 10% of all cataracts are directly caused by UV exposure. A pterygium is a pink, non-cancerous growth that forms on the layer of conjunctiva over the white of your eye. UV light from the sun is believed to be a factor in the development of these growths. Five to 10% of the various forms of skin cancer such as basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma can develop on and around the eyelids due to poor UV protection (sunglasses). 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.
Everyone, including children, is at risk for eye damage from UV radiation that can lead to vision loss. Any factor that increases the amount of time you spend in the sun will increase your risk. Long hours in the sun, the use of a tanning bed, certain medication such as tetracycline, and occupations such as welding can increase your risk of damage from UV light.
It is very important to provide adequate protection for your eyes with a good pair of sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Sunglasses should block 99 to100% of UV-A and B rays and screen out about 75 to 90% of visible light to properly protect the health of your eyes. If you spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight, wraparound frames can provide additional protection. Lastly, don’t forget about protection for your children and teenagers, as they typically spend more time in the sun than adults. There are many styles of sunglasses in all sizes for children and teens to provide the protection needed from the harmful UV rays.