Here Comes the Sun

Summer is upon us! We protect our skin with sunscreen, but do we need to protect our eyes too? Most people are aware of the dangerous effects ultraviolet (UV) rays have on our skin, but most don’t realize the danger to our eyes. UV radiation can burn the front surface of the eye, similar to a sunburn on the skin. It can also damage the eye’s surface tissues, the cornea and lens.

UV radiation is the invisible rays from the sun. There are three types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, and therefore pose no threat to us. However, exposure to UVA and UVB rays can have adverse effects on your eyes and vision. Short- and long-term exposure to these dangerous rays can cause significant damage. The sun is not the only source of UV radiation; artificial sources like welding machines, tanning beds and lasers also emit UV radiation.

Unprotected exposure to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time, can result in photokeratitis. Photokeratitis is an inflammation of the cornea caused by a brief exposure to UV radiation, usually when combined with cold wind and snow. This “sunburn of the eye”, it may be painful and exhibit symptoms including red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing. The good news is this is usually temporary condition and rarely causes permanent damage to the eyes.

Scientific studies and research growing out of the U.S. space program have shown that exposure to small amounts of UV radiation over a prolonged period of time (years) may increase the chance of developing a cataract and may cause damage to the retina. This damage is usually not reversible. Cumulative damage of repeated exposure may contribute to chronic eye disease, and increase the risk of developing skin cancer around the eyelids. Long-term exposure to UV light is also a risk factor in the development of pterygium (a growth that invades the corner of the eyes) and pinguecula (a yellowish, slightly raised lesion that forms on the surface tissue of the white part of your eye.)

Although we know that exposure (both short and long-term) may damage the eyes,Ii is not yet known how much exposure will cause how much damage. A good rule of thumb is to wear quality sunglasses that offer good protection and a wide-brimmed hat when doing anything in the sun.

When choosing sunglasses, use these guidelines:

  • block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation
  • screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
  • be perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection

When it comes to the color of the sunglass lens its really personal preference… Gray and Green are less color distortion, but brown is fine too, some people prefer it for glare. I’ve worn all kinds, brown gray, green, polarized or non-polarized and as long as the frame is a comfortable fit and the lenses have all the qualifications for protection that is fine.

Wrap-around frames can provide additional protection from harmful UV radiation by keeping UV rays from reaching the eyes. Don’t forget to the UV eye protection for children and teenagers. They typically spend more time in the sun than adults. Finally, even if you are wearing contact lenses that have UV protection, you still need to wear sunglasses. UV rays can affect the eye tissue that is not covered by the contacts.

So when you grab the sunscreen, grab a good pair of sunglasses too!