Summer is in full swing and it is usually the time of year when everyone reaches for a new pair of sunglasses. However, sunglasses with the proper UV-A and UV-B protection, are something you should be using all year round. Here’s why! The sun is as essential to the earth as the air we breath but its strong solar rays can be harmful to our bodies. These strong solar rays known as UV or ultraviolet radiation are not only present in the sun but also in the radiation from tanning beds, welding machines and lasers. If you are exposed to this UV radiation in excessive amounts for a short period of time or in smaller amounts over a long period of time, your eyes and your vision can suffer.
Exposure to excessive amounts of UV radiation in a short period of time can result in ‘photokeratitis.’ You can sort of think of this as a sunburn of the clear tissues on the front surface of the eye called the cornea. Photokeratitis is very painful, much like a severe sunburn of the skin and it can also produce extreme sensitivity to light (photophobia), a gritty feeling to the eyes, a foreign body sensation (you feel like you ‘have something in your eye’), and continuous watering or tearing of the eyes. Photokeratitis, when managed properly by your eye doctor, can be resolved in most cases without any permanent damage to the tissues of the eye or to your vision.
In contrast, Long term exposure to UV radiation, even in small amounts over the years, can be very dangerous to your eyes and can permanently affect your vision. Overexposure to UV-A and UV-B radiation can worsen oxidative damage to the lens inside the eye and can cause Cataracts to develop at a more rapid rate than they would have otherwise. (It is interesting to note that UV-C radiation does not affect us because it is absorbed by the ozone layer). The retina, the tissue inside the eye that acts like film in our eye’s camera, is also damaged by too much UV exposure. This can greatly increase the risk of developing Macular Degeneration, a condition which can lead to serious permanent central vision loss in some cases.
So what can you do to protect your eyes and your vision from UV radiation while having some fun in the sun?
- Wear Sunglasses that block 99-100% of UV-A and UV-B radiation and buy them from a reputable retailer like your eye doctor to make sure they are authentic. I have heard stories of sunglasses with stickers on them that say they protect against UV-A and UV-B radiation but fall short of the required standard. Consider wrap-around sunglasses to maximize blockage of sunlight on the front and sides of the eyes and consider sunglasses with lenses made out of polycarbonate, the most shatter-resistant type of lens, if you will be playing sports or being physically active. Also, my personal favorite for sunglasses are Polarized sunglasses which block light rays bouncing off of horizontal surfaces and therefore dramatically reduce glare off of water, snow, metal (like the hoods of cars) and roadways. Great for boaters, fisherman, golfers, bikers, joggers, skiers and anyone who is ‘light-sensitive’ such as people who have just had cataract surgery.
- Wear a baseball cap or a hat with a wide brim.
- Limit your time outdoors.
- Wear proper protection when in tanning beds, or when welding or when exposed to radiation.
- Ask your eye doctor about contact lenses which have UV protection built right in.
- Get an eye exam so your eye doctor can check the health of your eyes to monitor for signs of damage to the lens of the eye (cataracts) or the center of the retina (the macula).
Now that you know how to protect your eyes and vision, get out there and enjoy those golden days of summer!