Ultraviolet Radiation and Your Eyes

ultraviolet radiation and eyes

The summer season often means spending several hours getting the much-needed Vitamin D from the sun. While at it, most people apply sunscreen to protect their skin, often forgetting that eyes also need protection. You should protect your eyes from strong sunlight and ultraviolet exposure.

UV radiation from indoor artificial rays or natural sunlight has damaging effects on the eye tissue, especially the lens and cornea. Unfortunately, most people don’t know the dangers of UV radiation to their eyes.

Understanding How UV Radiation Affects Your Eyes

Two main types of UV light can affect your eyes and vision. They are:

  • UVA – this low-energy radiation harms the macula (the deepest part of the eye). UV damage to the macula affects central vision, causing blurred vision and blindness if unprotected. While UVA isn’t powerful, it is the most prevalent type of UV light.
  • UVB – it is the most dangerous type of ultraviolet light that causes sunburns and other serious effects of UV. UVB damages the lens and corneal tissues of the eye.

Natural UVC is absorbed by the atmosphere. However, prolonged exposure to LED, mercury lamps, and other artificial sources of UV rays can cause temporary damage to the eyes. Most people only focus on protecting themselves from UVA and UVB rays during the summer. However, these rays are a serious threat throughout the year. Clouds and the ozone layer do very little to prevent infiltration of UV rays, especially currently due to increased pollution.

What Does UV Light Do the Eyes?

Short-term and long-term UV exposure cause eye damage. Over time, UV damage to the eye affects your vision and eye health. Below are common conditions that occur from UV exposure.

  • Photokeratitis

Photokeratitis is a common eye condition that occurs when eyeball tissues are inflamed. Also called corneal sunburn, Photokeratitis is the eye version of sunburn in many ways. The ‘epithelial’ tissue of the eyeball is very sensitive that few hours of exposure to UV rays can damage it.

Because of the sensitivity of the corneal tissue, Photokeratitis isn’t an exclusive summer eye condition. It can occur throughout the year, and especially affects those who spend more time in reflective environments, such as lakes, snow, oceans, and sandy beaches.

  • Macular degeneration

The macular is the deepest part of the eye that converts light and images to nerve signals used to interpret vision in the brain. The macular should be healthy to make vision sharper and more detailed. However, prolonged exposure to UV rays causes macular degeneration. Macular degeneration also occurs naturally with age, often affecting central vision.

  • Pterygium and Pinguecula

Exposure to UV radiation also causes Pterygium, a conjunctival tissue growth. The conjunctiva is the membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the inside part of the eyelids. Prolonged UV exposure accelerates Pterygium growth, causing loss of vision. A surgical operation is required to correct vision if the growth extends and spreads significantly.

On the other hand, Pinguecula describes a raised tissue inside the conjunctiva. It often starts as a yellow or white bump inside the eyeball. People living in sandy and dusty areas commonly develop this condition.

  • Cataracts

Cataracts are among the common eye disorders and a leading cause of blindness, especially among the elderly. Prolonged exposure to UVB rays contributes to the eye lens’s deterioration and the lens’s clouding. Severe deterioration of the eye lens reduces vision and causes blindness.

Who is at Risk?

Unfortunately, UV radiation can affect everyone, including children and the elderly. However, several factors that increase the time spent in the sun increase the risk of eye damage. You are at risk if you:

  • Spend long hours outdoors in the sun
  • Use a tanning bed or sunlamp
  • You’ve undergone cataract surgery or have a retinal disorder
  • Are on certain medications, including birth control pills, tranquilizers, diuretics, and tetracycline

Protecting Your Eyes from UV Radiation

You can protect your eyes from UV damage by:

  • Wearing sunglasses – using eyeglasses is the best way to protect against UV exposure. Unfortunately, most people forget to check the UV ratings of their sunglasses before purchasing them. You should buy sunglasses with a 100% UV rating or UV400 protection. It should also block UVA and UVB rays.
  • Wear UV-blocking contact lenses – UV-blocking contacts also protect the eyes from UV exposure.
  • Schedule eye exams – a comprehensive eye exam allows professionals to evaluate your eye health.
  • Wear a wide-brim hat with your sunglasses to prevent exposure from angles not covered by the sunglasses.
  • Don’t look at the sun directly – looking at the sun directly can damage the retina and cause solar retinopathy.
  • Avoid using tanning beds – tanning beds are as bad as outdoor sun rays.

The Bottom Line

While the sun is beneficial in many ways, including providing Vitamin D, preventing nearsightedness in kids, and improving sleep, it can damage the eyes and skin. Therefore, consider staying indoors when the sun is at its peak and wear eyewear to protect your eye health and vision.

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