As the weather warms up and we get closer to the start of summer, our families tend to spend more time outdoors and in the sun. While most of us are aware of the harm UV (solar) radiation can do to the skin, we may not realize that exposure to UV radiation from the sun can also harm the eyes and affect vision. Because the damage from UV radiation is cumulative, much of the sun/UV exposure during childhood and early adulthood can increase the risk for developing diseases and disorders later on in life.
There are three types of UV radiation: UV-A (long-wave), UV-B (short-wave), and UV-C. Most UV-C radiation is absorbed by the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, and does not pose a significant threat to eye and skin health. However, both UV-A and UV-B radiation do penetrate the atmosphere and can play a role in the development of many health conditions such as:
- Skin cancer (especially around the eyelids and lower eyelash line)
- Eye cancer/melanoma of the eye
- Cataracts (a cloudiness of the intraocular lens that causes blurry vision and glare)
- Macular Degeneration (permanent loss/distortion of central vision)
- Premature aging of the skin and the eye structures
- Photokeratitis (“sunburn of the eye”)
- Damage to the retina (the nerve layer of the eye that allows you to see)
To protect your eyes from solar radiation it is important to invest in a good quality pair of sunglasses. If you need to wear glasses for clear vision, sunglasses can be made with your prescription, or you can wear non-prescription sunglasses over contact lenses. (Ask your eye doctor for recommendations tailored to your specific vision needs.) Also, beware of poor quality sunglasses – the pupils of the eye increase in size behind dark tinted lenses and if the lenses are not properly filtering UV radiation, you have now created a larger “hole” for UV to get inside and damage the eye.
Features to look for in a quality pair of sunglasses:
- 99% to 100% UV-A and UV-B blocking
- Lenses should screen out 75 – 90% of visible light
- Gray tinted lenses to reduce color distortion (maintain colors true to life) or
- Brown/Amber tinted lenses to increase contrast (great for sports)
- Polarized lenses to reduce glare/reflections
- Properly fitting frame with few gaps around the tops and sides (so that there is little space for unfiltered stray light to reach the eye)
- Polycarbonate or Trivex lens material (for impact protection) for sports or potentially eye-hazardous work
- Ask your eye doctor for specific brand recommendations
In addition to wearing a good quality pair of sunglasses, wear a hat or cap with a wide brim whenever you spend time outdoors. Certain brands of contact lenses can also help to screen out some UV (but are not considered a substitute for sunglasses). Make sure to visit your eye doctor for yearly comprehensive eye exams to monitor eye health, maintain good vision, and keep track of your sun protection needs.
-Dr. Mika Fu