UV damage: Protect your Peepers

As you well know, too much exposure to the sun's UV rays can cause sunburn, skin damage and can ultimately lead to skin ca...

As you well know, too much exposure to the sun's UV rays can cause sunburn, skin damage and can ultimately lead to skin cancer. But did you know UV rays also harm your eyes?

WHAT CAN HAPPEN?

Exposure to the sun's UV rays (UVA & UVB) has been linked to significant eye problems.

  • cataracts - cloudy patches in the lens that can make vision blurred or misty. They can develop in one or both eyes.

  • macular degeneration- a painless eye condition that leads to the gradual loss of central vision (the ability to see what is directly in front of you).

  • pinguecula – a white or yellow bump on the white of the eye caused by a thickening of the conjunctiva (the thin protective layer), usually found close to the edge of the cornea

  • pterygia – a pterygium is a noncancerous growth that develops on the white of your eye. As it gets bigger and crosses over the cornea, you might have blurry vision because it will warp the cornea causing an astigmatism. In extreme circumstances, the growth may progress over the cornea to obscure your vision

  • photokeratitis - prolonged exposure to intense sunlight can cause the eyes to become painfully sensitive, known as photokeratitis or snow blindness
  • conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye)

  • The development of spots that could result in blindness

  • Eye cancer in later life

Short-term UV exposure can result in mild irritation, difficulty with bright lights, excessive blinking and sunburn of the part of the eye known as the cornea.

UV INDEX

The Global Solar UV index is a scale that was developed by the World Health Organisation which measures the UV radiation level at the surface of the Earth and gives an indication of the potential for skin damage. Check out our UV Index to check the UV level where you are.

RISK FACTORS

The actual amount of UV radiation you get outdoors depends on a number of factors including:

  • Geographic location UV exposure is greater in tropical areas near the equator. The farther you are from the equator, the lower your risk
  • Altitude UV exposure is greater at higher altitudes
  • Time of day UV exposure is greater when the sun is high in the sky, typically from 10am - 2pm
  • Setting UV exposure is greater in wide open spaces, especially when highly reflective surfaces are present, such as snow and sand. Sunglasses are also important in winter, as fresh snow can reflect 80% of UV rays, almost doubling your exposure to UV radiation

  • Medications Certain medications, such as tetracycline, sulfa drugs, birth control pills, diuretics and tranquilizers, can increase your body's sensitivity to UV radiation.

PROTECTION

Many misconceptions exist about sun protection for your eyes. Keep these tips in mind:

  • To protect your eyes you should wear sunglasses that block 100% of all UV rays (UVA & UVB) and carry the CE Mark. It is important to wear sunglasses whenever you are outdoors in daylight - even on cloudy days, as the sun's harmful UV rays can penetrate cloud cover. CE Mark sunglasses are available in selected CarePlus Pharmacies.

  • To protect as much of the delicate skin around your eyes as possible, try at least one pair of sunglasses with large lenses or a close-fitting wraparound style.

  • In addition to sunglasses, wearing a wide-brimmed hat on sunny days can reduce your eyes' exposure to UV by up to 50%.
  • Remember to wear sunglasses even in the shade. Although shade reduces your UV and HEV exposure to some degree, your eyes will be exposed to UV rays reflected from buildings, roadways and other surfaces.
  • Even if your contact lenses block UV rays, you still need sunglasses. UV-blocking contacts shield only the part of your eye under the lens. UV rays still can damage your eyelids and other tissues not covered by the lens.
  • Although dark skin colour may give you a lower risk of skin cancer from UV radiation, your risk of eye damage from UV rays is the same as that of someone with fair skin.

  • Watch out for sun, sand and water. When at the beach or in the pool, remember that rays reflected off sand, water or pavement can burn your eyes.

  • The Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO) urge people to be aware of the heightened risk of exposure to UV damage as a result of having light coloured eyes during the summer months when UV levels are at least three times higher than in winter.

CHILDREN

The risk of damage to our eyes and skin from solar UV radiation is cumulative — meaning the danger continues to grow the more time you spend in sunlight throughout your lifetime. Thus, it is especially important for kids to protect their eyes from the sun.

  • The ICO is encouraging parents to get their children into the habit of wearing UV-blocking sunglasses from an early age so it becomes habit. The ICO state that “wearing sunglasses is one of the easiest and most important things children and adults can do to protect their eye health.”

  • Some experts say that because children tend to spend significantly more time outdoors than adults, up to half of a person's lifetime exposure to UV radiation can occur by the age of 18.

  • Children are also more susceptible to eye damage from UV rays because the lens inside a child's eye is clearer than an adult lens, allowing more UV to penetrate deep into the eye.

  • Make sure your children's eyes are protected from the sun with good quality sunglasses or photochromic lenses(lenses that are clear (or nearly clear) indoors and darken automatically when exposed to sunlight).

  • Toy sunglasses do not provide protection from UV rays. If a child refuses to wear sunglasses don’t forget that a broad brimmed hat and shade will also give some protection.

  • Check tags to make sure they give enough protection. Look out for: European Standard EN1836.

*Information adapted from The Irish Cancer Society, All About Vision, Specsavers and the HSE



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