Soon we will all be spending more time outside. Whether you’re going out for a walk, enjoying our beautiful parks, watching a baseball game or lounging by the pool, it is critical to understand how the sun can affect your eyes. Ultra-violet radiation is emitted from the sun. UV can cause significant changes to tissues throughout the body. In moderate amounts, it can brighten your mood. Think about how you personally feel on cloudy days and compare that to sunny days. But, in high quantities, it is powerful enough to burn your skin.
High amounts of UV radiation can also effect the health of the eyes. Most of these changes are cumulative changes that occur over a lifetime. But, it is never too early to start protecting your eyes from excessive UV radiation. Here we’ll discuss how excessive UV exposure can effect the eyes and want you can do to protect them.
How Excessive UV Radiation Can Affect the Eyes
There are several things that can occur with excessive UV exposure of the eye from the sun. Just as the skin on any part of the body is susceptible to developing cancer if it is excessively exposed to UV radiation, so is the delicate skin around the eyes. This can initially appear as small red spots on the eyelids but can increase in size and become a larger lesion.
Excessive UV radiation is also a contributory factor to the development of cataracts. Cataracts is when the clear lens that is located inside the eye becomes cloudy. This is a natural process and will occur in everyone at some point in their lifetimes. Excessive UV exposure can accelerate this process and make it occur at an earlier age. This will result in blurry vision that a person will experience. The eventual treatment for cataracts is to have cataract surgery. During cataract surgery, the cataract is removed from the eye and is replaced with a clear plastic lens. Most individuals will experience a substantial improvement in vision after the surgery.
One of the most concerning conditions that is linked to excessive UV exposure is age related macular degeneration. The macula is the part of the eye where everything focuses inside of the eye. It’s what gives us our best vision. So, as an example, the reason that you can read this article is because the words are being focused on your macula.
Age related macular degeneration, as its name implies, is a degeneration of this tissue. As the tissue begins degenerating, optometrists can see these changes inside of the eyes. This will eventually cause a persons vision to become blurry. Unfortunately, it often times cannot be corrected with new glasses.
How Do We Protect Our Eyes?
Fortunately, there are simple yet effective ways to protect your eyes from excessive UV exposure. This includes things like providing a physical block from UV radiation with wide brimmed hats. Additionally, sunglasses provide protection against UV radiation.
There is a misperception that darker tinted sunglasses provide more protection against UV radiation than lighter tinted sunglasses. The darkness of the sunglasses does not determine the level of UV protection that the sunglasses provide you. The most important thing to determine if the sunglasses will provide you appropriate UV protection is to make sure that they are identified as having 100% UV protection.
If you wear prescription eyeglasses, fortunately there are ways to provide additional UV protection. The first is to have a separate pair of prescription eyeglasses that are sunglasses. Some people like to have a separate pair of sunglasses to wear outside while others don’t like the inconvenience of having a second pair of glasses. Another option is to have lenses that turn into sunglasses automatically when you go outside. These are called photochromic lenses.
Another option is to have a pair of magnetic “clip on” sunglass lenses that you can put on right over your prescription eyeglasses. There is also the option of a pair of “fit overs” which is a large pair of sunglasses that fit right over your glasses. This option is a larger pair that would rest completely over your prescription eyeglasses.
Summertime for most people means being outside more doing things that we enjoy and seeing the beauty of Ohio. Don’t forget to protect your most valued sense when you’re out there, your sight. Follow simple steps to make sure that you are seeing all of the beauty summer has to offer while keeping your eyes safe from excessive UV exposure. Your eyes will thank you for it.
Mile Brujic, OD, FAAO is a 2002 graduate of the New England College of Optometry. He is a partner of Premier Vision Group, an optometric practice with three locations in Northwest Ohio. He practices full scope optometry with an emphasis on ocular disease management of the anterior segment and specialty contact lenses. Brujic is on the editorial board for a number of optometric publications. He has published over 350 articles and has given over 1600 lectures, both nationally and internationally on contemporary topics in eye care.