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Importance of UV Protection for the Eyes

August 7, 2020


With summer in full swing, now is the ideal time to head outside and enjoy the warm, sunny weather. Nevertheless, unless you are using the appropriate protection, you could be putting your eyes and health at risk. This is because the sun emits powerful radiation which can be harmful, causing damage to our skin, eyes, and more. 


Here’s what you need to know about the importance of UV protection, and what you can do to keep your eyes safe this summer. 


Types of UV Radiation 


There are three different types of UV radiation emitted by the sun. These are:


UVA rays are unfiltered and, according to the World Health Organization, cause the most damage to both vision and health. UVA penetrates the eyes deeply, passing through the cornea and affecting the cells inside, causing changes that have been linked to the early development of sight-threatening conditions including cataracts and macular degeneration. 


UVB rays are partially filtered but are still very damaging to unprotected eyes and skin. They are most commonly associated with sunburn and skin cancer, but they can also cause damage to the surface of the eyes, resulting in significant discomfort and visual disturbances. 


UVC rays are completely filtered out by our atmosphere and fortunately, do not pose a threat to our vision or health. 


Eye Problems Caused by UV Damage


There are a number of different eye problems that have all been linked to exposure to UV radiation without adequate protection. These include the following:


Photokeratitis: characterized by inflammation of the cornea, this painful condition feels a lot like sunburn of the eyes and causes symptoms including excessive blinking and watering, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and more. 


Photoconjunctivitis: this is where the patient experiences inflammation of the conjunctiva - the mucous membranes in front of the eyeball and inside the eyelids. This condition is also painful and causes symptoms similar to that of photokeratitis.


Pinguecula: characterized by a yellowish or white growth on the conjunctiva, these bumps are benign and will not grow onto the cornea, but they can be irritating and look unpleasant. They can also potentially turn into a pterygium. 


Pterygium: also known as surfer’s eye, a pterygium is a soft, fleshy overgrowth of the white of the eye, usually beginning at the corner of the eye near the nose. Pterygium growths are usually flesh-colored and over time, they can grow across the cornea and cause vision problems. 


Skin cancers around the eyes: skin anywhere on our body can be affected by cancerous cells, including the delicate skin around our eyes. Any unusual spots, moles, lesions, or areas of discoloration should be assessed immediately. 


Cataracts: cataracts occur when the proteins normally found well-dispersed in the natural lens of the eye change and begin to clump together, causing cloudy patches in our field of vision. Over time, cataracts get worse until vision is completely impaired. Research shows early cataract development is more common in patients whose eyes have had prolonged exposure to UV light.


Macular degeneration: another progressive condition, this occurs when a part of the back of the eye, called the macula, begins to deteriorate. The macula enables us to see fine details and colors, so when the cells break down, our ability to perceive these features diminishes. Although it doesn’t cause total blindness, it can make day to day activities very difficult.  


Protecting Your Eyes From UV Radiation


Protecting your eyes from UV should be a priority and the earlier that we start doing so, the longer we may be able to preserve the health of our eyes and our vision. If you have children, make sure that you start insisting on them wearing eye protection right away as any damage that occurs is accumulative and will get worse over time.


Unsurprisingly, the best way to keep our eyes safe from the harmful effects of UV light is to wear sunglasses. These should be tested and carry a label or sticker to show that they are effective at blocking out 95-100% of UV light. Not all fashion sunglasses have this protection, so it is important to choose wisely. You should also make sure that the sunglasses you choose fit well, ideally as close to the face as possible, as this will prevent peripheral light from seeping in around the lenses. Wraparound and oversize styles are particularly effective at minimizing light exposure. Remember, the darkness of the lenses themselves has no real bearing on the effectiveness of the lenses. Look for the label instead.


Other top tips for protecting your eyes from UV radiation include:

  • Apply sunscreen on the skin around the eyes

  • Stay out of the sun in the middle part of the day when it is at its highest

  • Wear sunglasses whenever you are outside since UV is still damaging even on cloudy days

  • Consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat to prevent light from entering your eyes from above the brim of your sunglasses



If you would like more advice on the best way to protect your eyes from the harmful effects of UV, please don’t hesitate to speak to our knowledgeable eye care team in Rosedale Auckland.