June is here and that means sunny summer days are upon us! You put on sunscreen to protect your skin, but did you remember to wear your sunglasses?
June is UV Safety Month, and with National Sunglasses Day held on June 27th, let's talk about the effect of UV rays on our eyes. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the main cause of skin cancer, but it can also damage your eyes if you leave them unprotected.
What is UV Light?
The sun’s primary danger to us comes in the form of UV light or radiation. UV radiation is a component of solar radiation and can come from many directions. They radiate directly from the sun, but are also reflected from the ground, water, snow, sand and other bright surfaces. Artificial sources like tanning beds, lasers, and welding machines can also emit UV radiation.
There are three types of UV radiation: UV-A, -B, and -C. UV-A and UV-B radiation can have adverse long- and short-term effects on the eyes and vision. UV-C is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not present any threat.
How Does UV Light Affect Eyes?
It can cause damage to the outside and inside of your eyes. There are several eye diseases and conditions caused or aggravated by exposure to UV radiation, such as: cataracts, macular degeneration, pterygium, photokeratitis, and skin cancers in and around the eyelids. The longer the eyes are exposed to solar radiation, the greater the risk of developing these conditions.
There is such a thing as a sunburn of your eyes. It's a condition called photokeratitis and is caused by exposure to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time. Its symptoms include severe pain, foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light, excessive tearing, and vision loss. Fortunately, these symptoms are usually temporary and rarely cause permanent damage to the eyes.
Who is At Risk?
Everyone (including children) is at risk for eye damage from UV radiation that can lead to vision loss. Any factor that increases the amount of time you spend in the sun will increase your risk.
If you answer yes to more than one of these questions, you may be at higher risk of UV radiation damage to your eyes:
Do you spend long hours in the sun? (Skiing, mountain climbing, swimming, at the beach, etc.)
Do you use a sunlamp, tanning bed or booth?
Do you live in the mountains or the US Sunbelt?
Have you had cataract surgery (in one or both eyes) or do you have a retinal disorder?
Are you on certain medicines, such as tetracycline, sulfa drugs, birth control pills, diuretics and tranquilizers (that increase the eye’s sensitivity to light)?
Are you a welder, medical technologist or do you work in the graphic arts or in the manufacturing of electronic circuit boards?
How Can You Protect Your Eyes from UV Light?
Here are some helpful tips to protect your eyes from the sun:
Wear sunglasses whenever you are outside, all year long.
In addition to your sunglasses, wear a broad-brimmed hat.
Don’t be fooled by cloudy skies! The sun’s rays can pass through haze and thin clouds. Sun damage to eyes can occur anytime of the year, not just summertime.
Don’t rely on your contact lenses to provide protection. Even if your contact lenses have UV protection, they only cover a small portion of your eyes. You should still wear your sunglasses as well.
It sounds quite obvious, but never, ever look directly at the sun. Looking directly at the sun at any time, even during an eclipse, can lead to solar retinopathy (damage to the eye’s retina from solar radiation).
Try to avoid exposure during peak sun times, which happen between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest. If you have to be outside, it is especially important to shield your eyes with a hat and proper sunglasses.
Don't forget about sun protection for kids and older family members, too.
Which Sunglasses are Best?
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), in order to provide adequate protection for your eyes, sunglasses should:
block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation;
screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light;
have lenses that are perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection; and
have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition.
Sunglasses that provide 100% UVA and UVB protection are usually labeled as UV-400. Also, select wraparound styles of sunglasses so that the sun’s rays cannot enter from the side of the frame. Sunglasses should be replaced every two years, as their ability to protect your eyes degrades over time.
For the highest-quality sunglasses, visit your local eye care office to sit down with an optician. They'll be able to help address all of your visual, ocular health, and style needs when it comes to picking out the perfect pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes.
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Photography by Jordan Lambesis