It’s summertime, which means fun in the sun and increased ultraviolet (UV) exposure. We all know that UV exposure can damage our skin, but did you know it can also harm our eyes. The tissues that make up our eyes are some of the most sensitive tissues found in our entire body. In honor of National Ultraviolet Safety Month, here's what you need to know about ultraviolet rays and your eyes.

Lets’ talk about how UV affects your eyes from the front to the back.
UV exposure can damage the eyelids, cornea, crystalline lens, and retina. Here is a breakdown of how each is affected by UV light.

  1. Eyelids: The eyelid is highly susceptible to skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Due to its thinness, eyelid skin is extremely vulnerable to sun damage. As a result, the skin on the eyelids can become droopy. Using sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing early-onset droopy eyelid skin.
  2. Cornea: UV exposure can harm the cornea in various ways. The cornea can become inflamed after exposure to UV, causing keratitis. UV light can also cause pinguecula which is a growth on the cornea, which in turn can become infected, inflamed and irritating and unsightly to the person. It can progress to a pterygium which is growth of the pinguecula onto the cornea Not only can the growth cause irritation, but it can alter the shape of the cornea. Sometimes they need surgical removal.
  3. Crystalline lens: The crystalline lens is the part of the eye that can be debilitated by cataracts. Your risk of cataracts increases with UV light exposure. “It is estimated that 10% of cataracts are directly attributable to UV exposure.”
  4. Retina: UV light exposure can damage the retina and cause macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness.

How to protect your eyes from UV light:

  1. Wear sunglasses: make sure your sunglasses have both "UVA and UVB protection”
    Find the right pair of sunglasses for you
  2. Wear a hat: broad-brimmed hats work best. The more shade, the better!
  3. Increase preventive measures midday: this is when the UV is the most powerful
  4. Never look directly at the sun: Injury can be caused even with protective measures

UV Light Myths:

  1. Myth: Only adults need to protect their eyes from UV light Truth: everyone’s eyes no matter their age can be damaged by UV light. Also, UV damage is cumulative therefore it is essential to start protecting the eyes during early childhood.
  2. Myth: You need polarized lenses to protect your eyes from UV light Truth: Polarized lenses are not needed to protect the eye from UV light. The most important factor to consider when choosing sunglasses is UVA and UVB protection.
  3. Myth: Even on cloudy days, UV light can harm your eyes Truth: UV light penetrates clouds and is still very damaging.
  4. Myth: Tanning beds are safer for your eyes than the sun Truth: tanning beds put your eyes at the same risk as the sun and should be avoided
  5. Myth: Everyone, everywhere is equally susceptible to UV light damage Truth: Many factors can increase one's vulnerability to UV light. The location of an individual can greatly affect their risk for UV damage. Higher altitudes and close proximity to the equator increase the risk of UV damage.  Also, Birth control pills, tranquilizers, and other medications can also make people more susceptible to UV damage.

If you have an active lifestyle outdoors, most likely you have been exposed to UV light. Come see us at Island Retina, to assess your eyes and check for UV damage.