In support of UV (Ultraviolet) Protection Month in July, and how this particular awareness falls smack in the middle of the summer season, it is extremely important to go over the details of why it is so important to protect your eyes and offer solutions to protecting them from future implications.

First and for most, one must note that while the eyelid decreases the amount of ultraviolet radiation infiltrating the eye, this delicate tissue on its own cannot effectively protect the cornea in its entirety. That’s why sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection and other protective caring is critical to saving one’s eyes when it comes to ultraviolet rays.

Short-Term and Long-Term Damage

Strong sunlight without proper protection can cause serious short-term, and long-term damage to the eyes, so it is important to know the effects of such implications.

Short Term

If one’s eyes are exposed to a high-UV sunlight for a period of time without protection, it is possible for the sun’s rays to burn the cornea and generate temporary blindness within a few hours (source).  Furthermore,  even though short-term effects of this type of damage may disappear, “the cumulative UV exposure can yellow both the lens and the cornea, making it more difficult to see contrast” (source). There are three typical problems that can arise due to unprotected sun exposure to the eyes: PhotokeratitisPterygium, and Pinguecula.

Photokeratitis is sunburn of the cornea,  and though this condition is only temporary, the pain can be substantial.  The condition is also known as “snow blindness,” because 80% of  sun-rays can reflect off snow and harm the eyes (source).

Pterygium, sometimes referred to as “surfer’s eye,” “is an abnormal but usually benign
growth on the surface of the eye, most often originating in thecorner near the nose.” Pterygium can be formed through excessive exposure to sun, wind, or sand and some symptoms typically include irritation, swelling, and itchiness, and can cause “corneal problems that can affect vision” (source).

Pinguecula “is a yellowish, slightly raised thickening of the conjunctiva (the on the white
part of the eye close to the edge of the cornea” (source). Pinguecula is caused from UV radiation but can also be caused from exposure to dust and wind.

Long Term

On the other hand, unprotected ultraviolet radiation one can accumulate over his or her lifetime can contribute to serious eye disorders. This cumulative damage may not appear right away, but there are factors to stop them from occurring. The complications of prolonged exposure to the sun has been linked to conditions including cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and cancer of the eye, eyelid and surrounding skin.

Cataracts are the continuous clouding of the lenses of the eyes and occur in those 40 years
of age and older. People who suffer from cataracts and decide not to treat this conditioncan cause irreversible blindness (source). “The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 20% of all cataract cases are attributable to UV radiation and are preventable (source).

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can cause vision loss the elderly and the leading leading source of blindness in adults 60 and older (source). “The macula is the part of the retina that enables the sharp, central vision needed for reading or driving. Higher UV exposure at an earlier age, especially for people who have long worked outdoors, has been significantly associated with early AMD (source). Vision loss from this disease cannot be reversed.

Cancer of the eyeball itself is quite rare, but skin cancers around the eye are quite common.”According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one-tenth of all skin cancers are found on the eyelid. Melanoma is the most frequent malignancy of the eye and often requires surgical removal. Exposure to UV radiation, especially UVB, is the most common cause for eyelid tumors” (source).

Protective Care Tips and Things to Know

To shrink the risk of facing long-term or short-term conditions due to unfiltered exposure to the sun’s UV rays, practice the following:

  • Wear the right sunglasses – Keep your eye out for those labeled “UV400” or “100 percent UV protection”when purchasing sunglasses – these are the type to buy.  All sunglasses DO NOT block 100 percent of UV rays and darkness and color do not indicate the strength of UV protection (source).
  • Wear sunglasses even when it is overcast – UV rays can go through clouds, so make sure to wear eye protection even on overcast days.
  • Wear sunglasses in shade – Even though the exposure of direct UV exposure is lower, eyes are still exposed to the UV rays that reflect off of surfaces including buildings and roadways.
  • Don’t stare at the sun – Staring into the sun can burn holes in the retina, “the light-sensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye needed for central vision. This condition is called solar retinopathy. While rare, the damage is irreversible” (source).
  • Head coverings that enclose your face – Considering wearing a hat, whether it’s a baseball cap or a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Drive with UV eye protection – “Recent research found that side windows blocked only 71 percent of rays, compared to 96 percent in the windshield. Only 14 percent of side windows provided a high enough level of protection, the researchers found” (source).

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