UV Radiation Can Damage Your Eyes Any Time of Year. Here’s How You Can Protect Them
As Optometrists, we routinely see the impact that UV rays have on our patients eyes. These rays, which are invisible to our eyes, can have a profound impact- especially with long-term exposure.
As we move into summer, the sun is out and so too are the people enjoying it. In our last post, Have You Ever Wondered What it Means When Sunglasses Advertise Their UV Rating?1, we talked about sunglasses and why their UV rating is important. If you haven’t read that post, we encourage you to check it out and then come back here as it has a primer on UV rays.
In this post we’re going to go into the impacts UV light can have on our eyes, and the best ways to protect your eyes from them.
Ultraviolet Light Risk Factors
The Calgary area receives ample sunlight, but that’s not the only risk factor to consider when assessing UV light. Other risk factors include:
- Altitude – The higher you are from sea level, the greater the UV levels. Calgary is approximately 3,500ft above sea level.
- Time of day – UV levels are at their peak from 10 am until 4 pm.
- Reflective surfaces, such as snow – UV levels can be nearly twice as strong in areas with lots of reflective surfaces. In Calgary, this is generally wide open snowy areas (like parks, ski hills, etc.).
How Ultraviolet Light Damages Our Eyes
UV radiation can harm our eyes in a variety of ways and is a contributing factor in numerous serious eye conditions, including:
- Photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis – UV rays can cause inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva, referred to as photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis respectively. Think of these are sunburns on or in your eyes.
These conditions are fairly common on ski hills, as they can begin to form after just a few hours of exposure.
- Cataracts – UV light (UVB rays specifically) has been shown to aid in the development of cataracts. Learn more about cataracts here2.
- Eye cancer – Many forms of eye cancer have been linked to UV radiation. Eye cancer often can require amputation of the eye in order to resolve.
Protecting Our Eyes from UV Rays
Remember that UV rays easily pass through clouds, so it is important to wear eye protection whenever you are outdoors. Wearing a pair of eyeglasses with lenses rated for UV 400 protection offers a high degree of protection. The same is true of sunglasses with similar ratings. Remember, the tinting of the lens has nothing to do with the amount of UV radiation it can filter.
You can also wear a hat to shield your eyes from UV rays.
Lastly, never look directly at the sun. It’s bright light and intense UV radiation can cause solar retinopathy, where UV rays have damaged the retina.