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Ultraviolet Light and Your Eyes

Ultraviolet Light and Your Eyes

Although sunglasses are a fashion icon, they are also important in preventing eye damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet light. Most of us would be aware of the sunburn that can cause harmful health issues such as premature aging of skin leading to its cancer. Just as the skin, medical evidence indicates that eyes can suffer from sunburn as well leading to cataracts, blindness etc.


The long-term effects of the ultraviolet light occur gradually without any pain causing vision impairment in time. Damages to the eye include corneal inflammation, cataracts and pterygium, cancer. In terms of exposure to the UV light, children and young adults are specifically at risk. It is essential for the parents/elders to ensure their younger ones protect their eyes with sunglasses especially in times of high UV radiation such as being on the beach or snow where danger occurs due to sunlight reflection.


What is UV radiation?

It is basically a component of solar energy. Other sources of this radiation include tanning lamps, high intensity mercury vapour lights and welding arcs. This radiation consists of three main types: UVA, UVB and UVC. What you need to be concerned of is UVB as this type of radiation causes sunburn and skin cancer. Most of the solar UV radiation is absorbed by the ozone layer. However, a calculation states that a percent drop of the ozone layer increases the level of UVB by two percent.

What are the effects of UV radiation on the cornea?

The cornea absorbs most of the UV radiation striking the eye but high levels of UV experienced in the snow or beach can cause inflammation. The condition is very painful causing the eye to be highly sensitive to any light source. This condition normally resolves in 48 hours but it is advisable to visit an optometrist for an eye examination to ensure no further damage has taken place.


What are the effects of UV radiation on the conjunctiva?

The conjunctiva can be damaged when exposed to UV radiation on a short-term basis. It can thicken by forming a fleshy growth known as pterygium if exposed on a long-term basis. The condition progresses gradually with the pterygium growing which then starts to cover the cornea causing vision disturbances. Treatment to this condition is a surgical removal. Besides, it is important for an eye care professional to differentiate between pterygia and other growths.


What are the effects of UV radiation on the lens?

UVB is particularly the type of radiation that causes cataracts – opaqueness that form in eye’s lens and hinder with vision such as looking through a dirty window. When cataracts become severe, surgical treatments can remove it by replacing with an artificial lens. Cataracts commonly occur among the older people being a result of ageing. Research suggests that ageing can be a reason but exposure to UV radiation can also be an important one.


How to avoid the effects of this radiation?

The easiest way is to limit your exposure to it. Higher the exposure more are the chances of eye conditions caused by the respective radiation. Below are three simple methods:

    1. Wear sunglasses: A pair of sunglasses with good quality lenses will reduce the amount of UC reaching your eyes and reduces the amount of glare.

    1. Wear a hat: A hat that is broadly brimmed will protest your head from sunburn and also reduce the proximity of UV radiation reaching your eyes.

    1. Avoid the sun: During summer, three quarters of UV exposure takes place between 10am and 4pm. If you can avoid staying out during this time, your exposure will significantly reduce thereby keeping you safe from the radiation.


Should children wear sunglasses?

Yes they should. Children are specifically at risk due to the time spent in outdoor activities. It is the parents’ responsibility to ensure their children are protected from the UV radiation with simple methods as mentioned above. You must be careful when choosing sunglasses for children as some may be toys and won’t provide the protection. One must always check the sunglasses are complying with the respective standard of eye protection.


Your optometrist can provide you with the best advice on getting prescription or non-prescription sunglasses as per your respective needs.