Virtually everyone is exposed to UV rays on a daily basis. Even though this is the case, the potential risks related to years of exposure to these harmful rays aren't really considered, to a point where many take little action to shield their eyes, even if they're expecting to be out in the sun for long periods of time. Overexposure to UV radiation is unsafe and irreversible, and can result in a number of severe, sight-damaging diseases later on in life. Therefore, ongoing protection from these rays is extremely important.
UV radiation, which originates mostly from the sun, is made up of 2 sorts of damaging rays: UV-A and UV-B. Despite the fact that only tiny amounts of UVA and UVB light reach the inner eye, the eye cells are very vulnerable to the damaging effects of their rays. Even in the short term, small amounts of exposure can result in sunburn of the eye, often referred to as photokeratitis. When UVB rays are absorbed by the cornea, the surrounding cells are severely damaged, and this can lead to blurred vision, pain or even temporary blindness. UVA rays can actually enter the eye more deeply, which causes damage to the retina. Over time, UV rays may lead to significant damage to the eyes. Out of the 20 million people suffering from cataracts, an estimated 20 percent of cases are due to extended exposure to UV rays.
An ideal way to protect your eyes from UV rays is through the use of good eyewear. Be sure that your sunglasses or prescription eyewear block both UVA and UVB rays completely. An unsatisfactory pair of sunglasses can sometimes be even worse than using no sunglasses at all. Think about it this way: when sunglasses don't offer any protection against UV, you're actually increasing your exposure to UV rays. Sunglasses that are inadequate will reduce the light, forcing your iris to open and let even more light in. This means that even more UV will reach your retina. It's important to check that your sunglasses offer enough UV protection.
UV protection is available in some clear lenses as well as sunglasses. The choices can be confusing, especially if you do not have enough background information. Not all lenses offer the same quality of UV protection. For example, cheaply made UV400 sunglasses may have a spray-on coating that will wear off with cleaning and give you a false sense of security.
Long-term exposure to UV rays can also result in an abnormal tissue growth on the eye, which is called pterygium. This is a thin, wedge-shaped tissue growth with blood vessels that grow over the white part on the surface of the eye. In addition to being cosmetically unappealing, a pterygium can be uncomfortable, and can even alter the shape of the eyeball, causing astigmatism. If the pterygium begins to grow over the cornea, it can damage vision and may result in surgery. Because pterygia are caused by extended UV exposure and windy conditions, it is totally avoidable.
At 20 years of age, the average person has received 80% of their life’s UV exposure. Children have more transparent lenses in their eyes and more sensitive skin on their bodies. As a result, they are at great risk of experiencing adverse effects of over-exposure to UV light. The effects of overexposure to UV light at a younger age may not show up until later in life when the risks of cataracts and age related macular degeneration increase. This is why it is critical to effectively protect our eyes from the sun.
Talk to the optometrists at Foresight Eyecare about all of your UV protection options, including, but not limited to, fixed tint sunglasses, adaptive lenses and polarized lenses.