uv damage to eyes

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, from both the sun and other artificial sources, has innate health risks and benefits for human beings. While UV rays have been helpful in treating eczema, psoriasis and jaundice, its harmful effects on the skin, immune system and eyes are too critical to overlook.

On a daily basis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Weather Service provide an accurate estimate of the day’s UV radiation levels and overexposure risk. The National Weather Service’s UV Index rates the level of solar UV radiation on a scale of 0 (lowest) to 11 – or sometimes higher – and in turn offers helpful sun protection tips. These tips range from simply wearing sunglasses, sun screen or wide-brimmed hats to staying inside and avoiding the rays altogether.

UV Radiation Damage and Your Eyes

Your eyes are equipped with natural protective mechanisms, including eyelids, eyebrows, eyelashes, pupillary constriction and reflexive squinting. These are all beneficial protectors, but they are not enough. Without additional protection, overexposure to UV rays will damage your eyes. Common conditions from UV damage include the following.

  • Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye) – A benign growth of fleshy tissue on the conjunctiva (the clear membrane covering the white of the eye) that can potentially grow over the cornea and obstruct vision. A pterygium that affects vision may be surgically removed.
  • Cataracts – A clouding of the eye’s crystalline lens, which is normally clear. As your vision grows more impaired by the cataract, surgery will likely be required.
  • Photokeratitis (Snow Blindness) – An inflammation of the cornea (like sunburn on your eye) often caused by a day in the sun without proper protection, or from overexposure to artificial UV rays.
  • Cancer – This can be in the form of melanoma of the eye, or basal cell carcinoma of the lids/surrounding tissues of the eye.

How to Protect Your Eyes from UV Rays

No matter where you spend time outdoors, it is important to follow the EPA guidelines for UV eye and body protection.

For example, when the UV index is low (2 or below) be sure to wear your sunglasses. Pick a pair that looks stylish and blocks 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. If you’re in the market, a pair of sunglasses will do just that. Be sure your contact lenses are also protecting your eyes from dangerous UV rays. Specific contact lenses have very high grades of UV protection and silicon hydrogel technology to retain moisture, even on the hottest days. Along with your sunglasses and contacts, even at the low risk level, don’t forget to use sunscreen rated SPF 15 or above.



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