What's up with UV?
Everyone in the East Coast is ready for some Big Summer Fun after our usual drawn-out, depressing winter- myself included. January to April in New Jersey always tests my commitment to the Northeast, but then a beautiful balmy spring day appears and all is right with the world again! Ah, emotions! You fickle thing.
Nevertheless, the much-welcomed sunshine and longer days usher forth the incessant reminders to “protect yourself from UV!” …and as someone who can barely muster the strength to brush her hair in the mornings, the thought of ANOTHER thing to do can seem overbearing.
However, as an eye doctor, I know that ignoring UV-protection is unwise. If this is reading like another self-serving reminder for everyone to invest in sun wear and get their eyes checked, BEAR WITH ME! There’s a wealth of knowledge to share!
There are 2 main types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight: UV-A and UV-B. Sunlight is made up more of UV-A which is lower energy but penetrates deeper into tissues, thus causing more damage, skin aging, and higher risk of skin cancer. In regards to the eye, UV-A is able to reach the back of the eye, effecting the retina. UV-B has a shorter wavelength and is the type of UV that causes sunburn. UV-B is actually more damaging to the eye because it has higher energy and is readily absorbed by our the front tissues of our eye like the eyelid skin, cornea, and lens. All in all, there is no visual benefit to UV light and optimal sun protection will screen out BOTH types of UV.
And so can happen when we ignore the UV light bombarding our eyes day after day?
-Cataracts occur when the lens inside the eye becomes cloudy and opaque over the course of many years. It is the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment worldwide. UV radiation has been implicated by countless studies as causation for cataract formation, and certain types of cataracts are associated with higher exposure to UV-B radiation.
Skin cancer of the eye lids
-Already a known fact, excessive exposure to UV radiation predisposes us to skin cancer, and the skin of our eyelids is equally susceptible. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of eyelid cancer.
-This is an excessive growth of eye tissue that extends to the cornea where it can block vision and cause irritation and dryness. It is seen most commonly in people who work outdoors in the sun and wind, and its prevalence is related to UV exposure.
-Essentially a sunburn of the cornea, photokeratitis is caused by UV-B and occurs when someone spends hours at the beach or in the snow without eye protection. It is reversible but extremely painful with temporary loss of vision. Studies have also shown that long term exposure to UV-B leads to degenerative cornea changes over time.
Age-related macular degeneration
-A major cause of reduced vision in the USA for people over the age of 55. Researches have proven that UV exposure and intense blue/violet light radiation is damaging to the retina and thus speculate that chronic UV exposure hastens the aging processes of retinal tissue.
WHO IS AT RISK? Everyone. No one is immune to sunlight related eye diseases, no matter what ethnicity. Any factors that increase sunlight exposure will increase risk of developing eye damage from UV radiation, such as working outdoors or being outdoors during 10am-3pm and summer months when sunlight is at it’s peak. US inhabitants who live in southern states are also at great risk since UV radiation increase nearer the equator, as are people who live at higher altitudes.
Good news! All types of eyewear, including prescription glasses, contact lenses, and intraocular lens implants (from cataract surgery) can absorb the entire UV spectrum (UV-A and UV-B) when incorporated. Also, adding UV protection to these devices is inexpensive and does not interfere with vision. (Aside: at Cornerstone, ALL our prescription lenses come with UV-block coating included.) Options like Transitions or polarization are useful for certain visual situations but do not provide UV protection by themselves.
Obviously, when outdoors in the sun, sunglasses will absorb 90-100% of UV radiation add further protection of the eyes by also protecting the skin around the eyes/eyelids from radiation. Also, wear a large brimmed hat, which will reduce the UV that enters from above or around your eye wear.
Whew, that was a lot of information! But ultimately, it’s evident that risk of eye damage from UV exposure is extremely prevalent and more importantly, HIGHLY preventable with the right protection! Be safe out there.