Summer Is Here! How Do UV Rays Affect Our Vision?
Although the eye consists of only a tiny fraction of the entire human body’s surface area, it represents the only way for visible light to penetrate the body. As humans have evolved, several mechanisms have developed to protect our very sensitive eyes against the sun’s harmful rays.
The eyes are recessed within the head, and the brow ridge, eyebrows, and eyelashes shield them. However, these adaptations are of only limited use when it comes to UV protection, especially in extreme conditions such as ground reflection from water, sand, or snow and tanning bed use. Although the squinting reflex, eyelid closure, and pupil constriction help minimize the penetration of sunlight into the eyes, it’s bright visible light – not UV radiation – that activates these mechanisms. That means that UV radiation can still be high, and your eyes will be less protected.
Photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis
Two common problems that can occur as a result of UV ray exposure are photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis. The former is an inflammation of the cornea while the latter refers to inflammation of the membrane that lines the inside of the eye socket and the eyelid – the conjunctiva. You can think of either of these reactions as a sort of sunburn of these extremely sensitive parts of the eye. Both conditions can be excruciating, although they are typically reversible and do not appear to cause long-term damage to the vision or the eye itself.
Cataracts are the number-one cause of blindness throughout the world. This condition occurs when proteins in the lens of the eye become tangled and accumulate pigments that cause clouding of the lens, reducing the amount of light entering the eye and causing a decrease in vision, sometimes severe. Cataracts affect different people to various degrees, but it does appear that they are exacerbated by UV exposure. Cataracts often require surgery as well as lens implants or other types of optical correction.
Cancer of the eye
Current research suggests that lifelong sun exposure may be associated with different forms of cancer of the eye. The most common cancer of the eye is melanoma, which requires surgical removal. Basal-cell carcinomas, another type of cancer, can be found on the eyelids.
This common cosmetic blemish is caused by a growth of the conjunctiva on the surface of the eye and is probably related to prolonged sun exposure. Pterygium can be mild or can extend over the center of the cornea, causing significant vision problems. In some cases, it may also become inflamed, causing discomfort as well as the increased loss of vision. Although pterygium can be surgically removed, it tends to recur.
Protection for your eyes
There are two important ways to protect your eyes from the dangers of sun exposure: know what these dangers are, and wear eye protection that blocks UV rays. Keep in mind that UV rays can come from any direction – directly from the sun as well as reflected off water, sand, snow, and other bright surfaces.
You can minimize the threat by wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Be sure that your sunglasses – prescription or not – absorb both UV-A and UV-B rays. Even your everyday eyeglasses should block UV rays with features such as UV-blocking lenses or coatings or photochromic lenses.
UV protection is an important investment you can make in the lifelong health of your eyes. At Weston Contact Lens Institute, we can evaluate your risk of harm from UV exposure and help determine the best ways for you to protect your vision going forward. We offer a range of services, including comprehensive eye exams, kids’ eye exams, contact lenses, dry eye treatments, emergency eye care, and more. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.