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uv light and your eyes

Here in the sunshine state, optometrists and ophthalmologists emphasize proper eye protection on sunny days, while vacationing in the snow, or while spending time on the water. This is because ultraviolet (UV) can damage your eyes’ anatomy, which can permanently compromise vision.

How Does UV Light Hurt Our Eyes?

UV light rays are a form of radiation and are the primary cause of sun-related skin cancers. Radiation damages a cell’s DNA, which means the cell reproduces in a diseased state. This leads to the development of unhealthy cell development, leading to cancer. Your sunblock, long sleeves, broadbrimmed hats, and strong recommendations to stick to the shade during peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) are all geared to preventing harmful and permanent cell damage. 

As you can imagine, harmful UV rays posing a threat to skin cells pose an equal risk to exposed eye cells. Overexposure to the sun poses multiple risks to the eyes, including:

The UV spectrum isn’t visible to the naked eye, but there are three different types of UV rays. The CDC defines them as:

  • UVA. These are the most abundant UV rays present on earth. The ozone layer does not absorb them. In addition to penetrating the deepest into skin layers, UVA rays also penetrate into the cornea and lens, causing the biggest risk to central vision. As a result, overexposure to UVA rays is related to the development of cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • UVB. The ozone layer absorbs most UVB rays, but the remainder enters the atmosphere and travels to the earth’s surface. These rays tend to damage the lens and cornea. Excessive exposure to UVB rays, particularly those reflected and magnified by water or snow, is responsible for photokeratitis (snow blindness). 
  • UVC. While these are the most powerful waves in the UV spectrum, UVC rays are completely absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere and the ozone layer.

Five Things To Understand About UV Light And Your Eyes

Here are five things you need to understand about UV lights and your eyes.

Some sunlight is good for optical health 

Sun protection is essential for moderate and excessive sun exposure. However, regular small exposure to sunlight is actually recommended. Studies show that children who spend more time outdoors and in bright sunlight are less likely to be nearsighted. Researchers also believe lack of sunlight negatively impacts eye shape. Also, lack of adequate sun exposure puts humans at risk for depression and vitamin D deficiency.

So, while sun protection is essential, especially in bright or direct sunlight hours, give yourself some protection-free time of healthy sun exposure. Taking a walk with your dog at earlier or later hours of the day, without directly facing the sun is one way to do it. 

Spending time in areas with dappled shade or indirect sun is another way to enjoy moderate sun exposure without risking or compromising your health. Then, when sunlight is more direct, or you need to squint, it’s time to don the sun protection. 

Check sunglasses for UV light protection

Some “fashion-centric” sunglasses or the cheap type you get from a gas station or dollar store don’t have the UV protection you’re looking for. Make sure any sunglasses you purchase clearly state “100% protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Your eye doctor can verify any glasses you own have the UVA and UVB protection you need, so bring the family’s sunglass collection with you to your next appointment.

Other things to look for when purchasing sunglasses that optimize UV and sun glare protection:

  • Optimum coverage (wrap-around is best, minimizing the sunlight/UV exposure from the gap between the glass frames and your face/forehead).
  • Polarized lenses that reduce glare
  • Lenses that do not warp or distort colors

Sun protection starts early

Because children tend to spend more time outdoors, the average American experiences 80% of their lifetime sun exposure by age 20. Make sure your children have broadbrimmed sunhats with durable chin straps to keep them in place. Also, speak to your optometrist about the best sunglasses for children, which are comfortable designed and have the right straps to keep them secured on the face for babies or toddlers who spend lots of outdoor, pool, snow, or park time.

Outdoor workers and hobbyists need prescription safety glasses

If you spend most of your time working outdoors, whether for work or hobby projects, speak to your optometrist about prescription safety glasses. The cheap versions provided by most employers or available in bulk at the hardware store may not have the level of UVA and UVB protection you need. 

Schedule an appointment and bring in your safety glasses so we can assess their level of sun protection. We can also order prescription safety glasses with proper UV protection, polarization, durability, and scratch resistance.

Sunshine is magnified by snow, water, and sand

Reflective surfaces magnify sunshine (and UV rays). Even cloudy days put you at risk for harmful exposure during to the sun’s magnification on these surfaces. If you’re working or playing on the water, near the water, or in the snow or desert, take proper precaution – equal to a sunny day.

Schedule An Eye Appointment If You Experience Sun-Related Eye Damage

Symptoms of eye damage following sun exposure include:

  • Sunburn on the body that is accompanied by the following symptoms
  • Scratch or burning eyes
  • Unusually red and irritated eyes 
  • Exessive tearing
  • Blurred vision or difficulty seeing
  • Light sensitivity

If you had a little too much fun in the sun, and you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, give Atlantic Eye Insitute a call, at (904) 241-7865, or contact us online. We’ll ask a few questions and determine whether or not an optometrist should see you.

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