With summer comes sunshine and therefore exposure to ultraviolet (UV) and blue rays. These are very damaging to the eye. If you are looking for a new set of shades, it is important to add eye health to your search, so look for the right style and the right lenses to protect your eyes. Unfortunately, many fashion frames don’t offer high quality lenses.
Research suggests that high-energy ultraviolet rays from the sun can harm your vision later in life. Excessive UV exposure may damage the macula, the area in the back of the eye that helps transmit pictures to the brain. The risk is greatest if your eyes are light-colored.
It’s about the lens
For maximum protection choose sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB light. Many people think you have to spend a fortune to get quality lenses, but you don’t have to pay a premium. You can find a good lens in some value brands if you know what to look for.
UV protection is available in all price ranges. choose the highest levels of UVA/UVB protection you can find. The UVA and UVB protection levels can be found on the sticker or printed on the tag.
Note: Select amber or brown lenses if you have macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy. These colors enhance contrast, which can help you see better. But a high UV rating is more important than lens color if you have to choose.
Just like your skin, eyes can sunburn and sustain damage, eye cancers, and more. Did you know that the eyelid skin is extremely thin and susceptible to melanomas and basal cell cancers? Protecting your eyes is as essential as protecting your faces, necks, arms, and legs. And did you know that lens effectiveness can diminish in time? A study was released that proved, like food in our refrigerator or medications, the protective ability of some sunglass lenses can degrade in time and negatively impact eye protection.
About UV light and your eyes
UV rays, those wavelengths invisible to the eye are the most dangerous part of sunlight. They can cause cataracts, eyelid cancers, and other skin cancers and are believed to play a part in macular degeneration, a major cause of vision loss for people over the age of 60. The fact is UV rays can prematurely wrinkle and age the skin around the eyes. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends shade, diligent sunscreen application, sun-protective clothing, and wide-brimmed hats. They also don’t want you to forget about quality eye protection too.. That said, we know sunglasses are super high tech and can be confusing; below is a guide on what you should know before you buy any protective eyewear.
There are numerous ways that UV exposure can negatively affect our eyes and subsequently our vision. In some cases, this exposure may even lead to more serious conditions such as photokeratitis, pinguecula, pterygium, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
UV Light and Wavelengths
Before jumping into the conditions associated with UV light exposure, here is a quick refresher course on the types of UV light. Within the invisible light spectrum, we have UVA, UVB, and UVC. Here’s the breakdown:
UVC is the most damaging to the skin. Thankfully, however, the majority of UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer and doesn’t reach us.
UVB affects the epidermis, or outer layer, of the skin. This results in sunburn, blistering, or possibly skin cancer. When it comes to the eyes, it affects the corneas or the clear front part of the eyeballs. This can cause severe irritation, light sensitivity, and lots of tearing. More on that later!
UVA is the one that penetrates the skin the most. This is because even though it isn’t as strong as UVB rays, it is more prevalent. UVA light makes up 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth and is the one that causes tanning and aging of the skin. But because it penetrates more deeply, it affects the inner layers of the skin and eyes.
Eye Conditions Associated with UV Light Exposure
Now that we’re up to speed, let’s talk about the specific effects these rays have on eyes, starting from short term sun exposure to long term exposure.
The first eye condition that can present from ultraviolet exposure is photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratopathy. Photokeratitis is a swelling or inflammation of the cornea, which is the clear front covering of the eye. One can experience many symptoms such as redness, blurred vision, tearing, light sensitivity, or general pain of the eyes. This can result from a day at the beach or on the slopes and is usually a consequence of not wearing proper protection from the sun (i.e., sunglasses or a hat). It is also commonly referred to as snow blindness. Photokeratitis can also be seen in welders.
This is usually a temporary condition but does require treatment with antibiotics and artificial tear eye drops to help it along. Cold compresses can also be used to help with the discomfort.
The second eye condition that can result from sun exposure is called a pinguecula. This presents as a white or yellow raised area or bump within the conjunctiva, which is the gelatinous layer that covers the white of the eye just outside of the colored part. This is particularly common in those who live in very sunny areas or even very dry, sandy, or dusty environments. This is not something that goes away once it presents itself, but can be treated if it becomes red or swollen with various eye drops. People with this condition should focus on using sunglasses or goggles and keeping the eyes lubricated with artificial tears.
The third eye condition is called a pterygium. With continued sun exposure, a pinguecula can grow from the white part of the eye onto the cornea, which is the clear front part of the eye. A pterygium is more obvious because it is a white, wedge or wing-shaped growth over clear tissue. If this continues to grow, then it may lead to scarring of the cornea, which could lead to permanent vision loss or distortion. If the pterygium is progressing, then surgery is required to remove it to save vision. Sometimes they can recur, however, there have been some advances recently to help reduce recurrence by using other tissues of the eye or various compounds/agents during the removal procedure.
The fourth eye condition from long-term sun exposure (we are talking years of sun exposure), is a cataract. Though it is thought that we will all develop cataracts over time if we live long enough, there is evidence that those who have constant exposure to the sun, will develop them more rapidly. Research is also showing that those who eat healthy diets in the form of green leafy vegetables, fruits, and antioxidants, and non-smokers are reducing the onset of cataracts. UV400 sunglasses are recommended for the best sun protection.
The fifth eye condition that can result from long-term sun exposure is damage to the retinal tissue known as macular degeneration. The retina is the multiple layered lining of the inside of the eye. An area near the center of the retina is called the macula. The macula is where we get our central vision from and the area that provides the clearest vision. In macular degeneration, the tissue composition within the macula begins to change. This causes loss of central vision resulting in blurred vision and eventually blank spaces in vision. This condition usually progresses slowly, but it can progress more quickly in some cases. This begins to show up after age 50. There are various treatments for macular degeneration depending on the severity of the case, however, there is currently no cure.
These are just a few reasons to minimize sun exposure. There are other conditions from ultraviolet light that can affect the skin surrounding the eyes. In the meantime take these tips into consideration.
Always wear sunglasses to protect your eyes when outside year-round, i.e. UV400 sunglasses
Wear wide-brimmed hats
Avoid the sun during the hours between 10 am-4 pm