UV And Your Eyes
Most people are familiar with ultraviolet light and the risks it poses to the health of our skin, but… did you know that it can also pose a risk to the health of your eyes? Too much exposure to UV light raises your risk of eye diseases and other problems.
UV can be broken down into 3 different types: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. Each has a different wavelength or energy to it. UV-A rays are associated with aging and also are able to pass through your Cornea and pose risk to your Lens and Retina. UV-B rays can also cause damage to your eyes, but the damage tends to stay more superficial. These are the rays responsible for burns. UV-C rays are the highest energy rays, meaning they are potentially the most harmful; however, they are blocked out by the Ozone layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, so thankfully we don’t need to worry too much about UV-C because it never reaches the Earth’s surface.
Wearing proper sunglasses does more than just make you look good. Sunglasses can also help to prevent cataracts and eye cancers. They can also help to prevent growths on the white part of your eye called pinguecula or a pterygium which grows on the cornea, the clear part of your eye that you see through. Wearing the proper UV protection may also reduce the risk of macular degeneration, which currently is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States for individuals over the age of 50.
Always Protect Your Eyes
While sunglasses shopping you may get caught up in style or price, but don’t forget to ensure they provide 100% UV or UV400 protection. It may even be listed as 100% UV-A and UV-B blocking. If the information is not advertised or otherwise known it may not be worth it to purchase them. It is important to know and understand that clouds don’t block out UV rays. Therefore we are susceptible to exposure even on overcast and cloudy days. Sunlight is typically strongest in the middle of the day and into the early afternoon, so during these times take extra measures to protect yourself. UV intensity is also typically greater at higher elevations/altitudes, or when sunlight is being reflected off water or snow. It is vital to understand that everyone is at risk for sun damage. All ages and skin and eye colors are vulnerable to sun damage. While those with lighter eye colors and/or fairer skin are inclined to a higher risk, it does not exclude everyone else.
Other tips for protecting your eyes from UV damage would be:
● Wearing a hat–this allows for added coverage where UV may sneak behind or around the lens of your sunglasses as well as give you a defense where the glasses may not cover (this is particularly true for full-brimmed or broad-rimmed hats).
● It may go without saying, but never look directly at the sun. Even on a cloudy/overcast day or on the occasions of an eclipse. Direct visual contact with the sun can permanently damage retinal tissues through an injury known as solar retinopathy, which in most cases results in irreversible vision loss.
● Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds can pose the same risks for harm to your eyes and skin as outdoor sunlight. There is no shame in a “fake tan.”
Polarization Vs. UV Protection
A frequent question we get with sunglasses is what is the difference between polarization and UV protection. It is a great question! Up until I became an eye doc, I didn’t really understand the difference either! All polarized glasses are UV protecting, while not all UV protection is polarized. Polarized sunglasses in particular have the added benefit of reducing glare and increasing the overall comfort of your vision. On polarized lenses, a chemically produced filter is used to reduce the amount of light that can get in. Miniblinds on a window can be used as a solid example. With the blinds down, but drawn open, you are able to still see through the slit openings between each blind. However, the overall brightness is reduced. In a similar way, polarization filters out specific light characteristically found in glare. With the benefit of reduced glare, you are more likely to have more comfortable vision with higher amounts of contrast. Polarization can also have the added benefit of increased safety in activities such as driving, boating, and skiing by improving your ability to see.
Sunlight and Our Health
Just like every other living creature on Earth, we have to have sunlight. Healthy exposure to sunlight can have very positive effects. For example, it helps us in our circadian rhythm and allows us to get a better night’s sleep. The sun is also our best source of Vitamin D as it allows the body to take certain cholesterol and transfer it into Vitamin D. This is important because Vitamin D is difficult to come by in our everyday diets without specific supplementation. Vitamin D is essential to our health by preventing issues such as osteoporosis, cancer, depression, muscle weakness and more. Spending time outdoors in daylight has also been linked to the prevention and management of myopia or near-sightedness. The benefits of sunshine and spending time outside are countless; just don’t forget to properly protect yourself from the adverse effects with good sunscreen, hats and, sunglasses.