Exposure to UV rays can burn delicate eye tissue and raise the risk of developing cataracts and eye cancer. Sunglasses help.
The sun releases energy (radiation) in many forms. The sunlight we see is one form. The heat we feel from the sun is another. Ultraviolet (UV) rays, a third type, are also invisible to the eye. UV rays cause sunburn. They can also damage your eyes and hurt your vision.
There are two types of UV rays: UV-A and UV-B. Over time, the effects of UV rays may help cause a number of eye problems.
UV-A can hurt your central vision. It can damage the macula, a part of the retina at the back of your eye.
UV-B — The front part of your eye (the cornea and the lens) absorbs most UV-B rays, but these rays may cause even more damage to your eyes than UV-A rays.
What Eye Problems Can UV Rays Cause?
UV rays may lead to macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss for older Americans.
UV rays, especially UV-B rays, may also cause some kinds of cataracts. A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, the part of the eye that focuses the light we see.
Another UV-related problem is a growth called pterygium. This growth begins on the white of the eye and may involve the cornea. Eventually, the growth may block vision. It is more common in people who work outside in the sun and wind.
Skin cancer around the eyelids is also linked to prolonged UV exposure.
Corneal sunburn, called photokeratitis, is the result of high short-term exposure to UV-B rays. Long hours at the beach or skiing without proper eye protection can cause this problem. It can be very painful and may cause temporary vision loss.
You can protect your eyes from UV rays in two important ways:
- Know the dangers of UV rays.
- Wear proper eye protection and hats that block UV rays.
UV rays can come from many directions. They radiate directly from the sun, but they are also reflected from the ground, from water, snow, sand and other bright surfaces.
Wear Sunglasses and a Brimmed Hat
Use eyewear that absorbs UV rays and wear a brimmed hat or cap.
A wide-brimmed hat or cap will block about half of UV rays. A brimmed hat or cap can also limit UV rays that hit the eyes from above or around glasses.
Eyewear that absorbs UV rays gives you the most protection. All types of eyewear, including prescription and non-prescription glasses, contact lenses and lens implants, should absorb UV-A and UV-B rays. For UV protection in everyday eyewear, there are several options like UV-blocking lens materials, coatings and photochromic lenses. UV protection does not cost a lot of money and does not get in the way of seeing clearly.