By Emsie Martin
– Ever thought about your eyes and UV radiation? UV light impacts numerous metabolic processes in people, plants and animals. However, our digital way of life means we’re spending more time indoors and therefore don’t see the daylight all that much. So it’s even more important to step outside more often and take part in outdoor activities to make ourselves feel good and stay healthy.
But we should ensure that we are sufficiently protected from the sun – that applies to our skin as much as it does to our eyes. To ensure you’re fully protected, the best solution to avoid UV damage is to protect your eyes effectively and continuously from the sun. Always choose sunglasses that have UV400 protection, which can therefore block at least 99–100% of UV rays.
The downsides of UV light
Spending a lot of time in the sun means intense radiation – this can damage your eyes if you don’t protect them from the sun and wear good sunglasses with UV protection. Chronic eye damage caused by UV radiation cannot be treated. But what exactly are the negative effects of UV light on our eyes?
Eye damage caused by UV light
When people think of sun protection, the first thing that springs to mind is their skin. But our eyes are also sensitive to UV radiation – not only when the sun is shining but in the shade, too. Not only at noon, but all day, every day, even on a cloudy day, UV radiation can be as high as 70 to 75% on the ground due to reflection and dispersion. Water, for instance, reflects up to 20% of UV radiation, fresh snow roughly 88%, sand up to 25 % and a concrete road around 12 %.
In terms of UV protection, the earlier you start, the better – but then again, it’s never too late to start!
Children’s eyes are particularly sensitive to UV rays. By the time we turn 20, we’ve already been exposed to around half the amount of the UV radiation a 60-year-old has been exposed to. In other words, by the time we turn 20, we’ll have absorbed around as much UV radiation as we would between the ages of 20 and 60 years.
If we don’t protect ourselves, we could develop eye problems from UV exposure:
UV rays may lead to macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss for older people.
Apart from age-related cataracts, which develop slowly, one factor that may lead to cataracts and that can be controlled, is spending too much time in the sun without appropriate ultraviolet ray (UV) protection.
This is a yellowish, non-cancerous growth on the conjunctiva (or clear membrane over the white part of the eye) and is harmless. A pinguecula is a deposit of protein, fat or calcium. It is usually found near the inside corner of the eye or near the nose.
Also known as surfer’s eye, a pterygium is believed to be caused by exposure to excessive amounts of UV light. It is more common in people living in sunny areas and who work outdoors. Other factors include wind, air pollution and further environmental irritants. A benign growth of tissue, it develops on the conjunctiva. The growth is often triangular in shape and, if left untreated, can extend across the pupil or cause the surface of the eye to change shape.
Skin cancer around the eyelids is caused by prolonged UV exposure. The skin of the eyelid is very thin and therefore susceptible to sun damage. Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of cancer found on eyelids, has a reddish nodule appearance. Fair skinned people and people with light coloured eyes are more at risk as they have less melanin or skin pigment. Most eyelid cancers only appear after the age of 50.
Corneal sunburn, or photokeratitis, is damage to the eye caused by exposure to UV rays when spending long hours in the sun, at the beach or snow skiing without proper eye protection. It can be very painful and cause vision loss for up to two days. The inside of the eyelids, the cornea’s thin surface layer and the conjunctiva (the clear tissue covering the white part of the eye) are usually affected.
In order to effectively protect both the eyes and the surrounding skin from UV radiation, we recommend wearing both sunglasses and normal, clear lenses with full UV protection up to 400 nm. This way, you’ll be protected whatever the weather – even on cloudy days.
A tip for contact lens wearers: While contact lenses with UV protection are available, they don’t protect your sensitive eyelids, particularly the edges. That’s why we recommend you invest in a good pair of sunglasses capable of blocking incident light.
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