When Protecting Yourself from UV Rays, Don't Forget Your Eyes
Most people know that ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause skin cancer. But you may not know that UV exposure can cause serious, permanent damage to the eyes, too.
What can happen?
UV radiation, from natural sunlight or artificial sources, can harm both the surface of the eye and internal parts, such as the cornea and lens. This damage can be permanent and can even lead to blindness.
Who is at risk?
Everyone is at risk, but those who work or play in the sun for long hours are most at risk. Certain medications, cataract surgery and some retina disorders can also increase your risk.
Eye Damage Caused By UV Exposure
Corneal sunburn (Photokeratitis) is like a sunburn on the skin. It is the result of high, short-term exposure to UVB rays. Being outside for long hours without protecting your eyes correctly can also cause this problem. It can be very painful and may cause short-term vision loss.
The combined results of long-term damage can also include:
- Cataract: A clouding of the eye's lens that can blur your eyesight.
- Pterygium: An abnormal, but mostly non-cancerous, growth in the corner of the eye. It can grow over the cornea blocking part of your vision. Surgery may be needed to remove this growth.
- Degeneration of the macula: The macula is the part of the eye that lets us see straight ahead. This central vision — fine, sharp, straight-ahead vision — is needed to do things like read and drive. Degeneration in this area is a leading cause of blindness.
- Skin cancer around the eyelids: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer to affect the eyelids. In most cases, lesions occur on the lower lid, but they can occur anywhere around the eyes.
Here are some tips to help you protect your eyes from UV damage:
- Wear the right protection at all times. Wearing the right kind of protective eyewear, even on cloudy days, is the best protection. Brimmed hats can also help. If you wear contact lenses, UV-blocking contacts can give you even more protection.
- UV radiation can come from many directions. Don't forget about the reflections that come off of pavement, water, snow and other surfaces. Sunglasses that wrap around your face and wide-brimmed hats add extra protection because they shield from the sides and above.
- Choose your sunglasses wisely. You'll get the most protection from sunglasses that cut glare, filter out at least 99 percent of UVA and UVB rays, are comfortable, and don't alter colors usually offer the most protection.
- You can choose to add protection to your everyday eyewear. Eyewear that absorbs UV rays gives you the most protection. All types of eyewear, including prescription and non-prescription glasses, contact lenses, and lens implants, should absorb UVA and UVB rays. For UV protection in everyday eyewear, there are many choices, including UV-blocking lens materials and coatings and photochromic lenses.