|We know that sun damage can lead to skin cancer but it can also cause damage to your eyes. With the ozone layer getting thinner more of the harmful rays of the sun are getting through, so we should protect our eyes more now than ever before.
Who is affected by UV exposure from the sun? Everyone from babies to adults.
Why is the sun harmful? The sun is harmful because it emits ultraviolet radiation(UV). UV causes damage to almost every tissue in the eye. UV radiation causes both short and long term effects on the eye. UV radiation is made up of three parts: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA and B reach our eyes, while UVC is filtered out by the ozone layer. Greater amounts of UVA and B are reaching the earth due to thinning of the ozone. UVA is the weakest form of UV. It causes skin aging, tanning, cataracts and macular degeneration. UVB is more harmful causing burns, skin cancers, and cataracts. An example of UVC is a welders flash. The heat of the sun is caused by infrared radiation(IR). IR is blocked out by the clouds, however, the UV rays are completely invisible and pass through the clouds and reach our unprotected eyes. This is why it is important to have sun protection even on cloudy days.
What eye diseases may UV exposure lead to? 1. Skin cancers of the eye lids, most commonly basal cell carcinoma, from chronic exposure to the sun. 2. Pterygium/pinguecula-a non-cancerous growth starting from the white part of the eye (conjunctiva). 3. Cataracts-clouding of the transparent lens in the eye, caused by prolonged sun exposure. 4. Macular Degeneration-deterioration of the macula, responsible for our central vision (our sharpest most used part). 5. Solar Keratitis-burn of the cornea when overexposed to the sun. 6. Solar Maculopathy-burn of the macula, when you stare at the sun or a solar eclipse.
Are there characteristics that put an individual more at risk to UV damage? 1. Genetics-light coloured eyes, skin and hair. 2. Location-UV exposure is greater for those who live closer to the equator or at higher altitudes. 3. Occupational or recreational reasons-those who are outdoors a lot. 4. Age-the younger you are exposed to UV the more additive are the effects. 5. Certain medications. 6. Family history of retinal degenerations.
How can you help protect your eyes from the sun? 1. Hats-Wearing wide brimmed hats. 2. Sunscreen around your eyes. 3. Staying in the shade or indoors when the UV readings are high. 4. UV protected glasses. 5. Sunglasses 6. Contact lenses with UV protection.
If you are concerned about damage that the sun may have caused to your eyes or would like any more information about UV, please contact your optometrist for an annual eye exam. Keep in mind this winter when you go outside to shovel the snow, enjoy a hike, ski, snowboard or any other outdoor activity use the above tips in protecting yourself from the sun. Sunglasses not only look good, they are actually good for the health of your eyes.