Most Americans understand the link between ultraviolet (UV) radiation and skin cancer. Many are less aware of the connection between UV radiation and eye damage. With increased levels of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface, largely due to stratospheric ozone layer depletion, it is important to take the necessary precautions to protect your eyes.
Potential Effects of UV Radiation on Eyes
UV radiation, whether from natural sunlight or artificial UV rays, can damage the eye, affecting surface tissues and internal structures, such as the cornea and lens.
Long-term exposure to UV radiation can lead to cataracts, skin cancer around the eyelids, and other eye disorders.
In the short term, excessive exposure to UV radiation from daily activities, including reflections off of snow, pavement, and other surfaces, can burn the front surface of the eye, similar to a sunburn on the skin.
The cumulative effects of spending long hours in the sun without adequate eye protection can increase the likelihood of developing the following eye disorders:
Cataract: A clouding of the eye’s lens that can blur vision.
Snow Blindness (Photokeratitis): A temporary but painful burn to the cornea caused by a day at the beach without sunglasses; reflections off of snow, water, or concrete; or exposure to artificial light sources such as tanning beds.
Pterygium: An abnormal, but usually non-cancerous, growth in the corner of the eye. It can grow over the cornea, partially blocking vision, and may require surgery to be removed.
Skin Cancer around the Eyelids: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer to affect the eyelids. In most cases, lesions occur on the lower lid, but they can occur anywhere on the eyelids, in the corners of the eye, under the eyebrows, and on adjacent areas of the face.
Did You Know….
22.3 million Americans have cataracts. The direct medical costs of cataracts are $6.8 billion annually.Source: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nei.nih.gov and Prevent Blindness America, www.preventblindness.org
Protect Your Eyes
The greatest amount of UV protection is achieved with a combination of: sunglasses that block 99–100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays; a wide-brimmed hat; and for those who wear contact lenses, UV-blocking contacts. Wrap-around sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats add extra protection because they help block UV rays from entering the eyes from the sides and above.