We all know how important it is to make sure that we wear sunscreen to protect ourselves from skin cancer, but if you’re like me, you will sometimes forget two of the most important things to protect – your eyes! You can definitely sunburn your eyes, and even cause lasting damage! The good news is that it’s pretty easy to protect yourself and your kids – wear sunglasses!!
May is Ultraviolet Awareness Month, and Dr. Alan Glazier gives us a pretty cool science lesson on UV rays and how to best protect our families!
UV Rays and Your Eyesight
Dr. Alan Glazier
The sun –our most basic energy source—is a vital source and enabler of life. It has been, for time immemorial, an object of our fascination when we look up at the sky; it has been worshipped as a god, loved and feared by man. How ironic it is that It can be such a vital source and at the same time menacing to our skin and eyes?
Through the light the sun sheds on us, energy is transferred to our bodies. This energy is strong enough to damage sensitive tissues. The light that is the most damaging is from the blue and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum. These “short wavelengths” of light (SWL) have enough power to disrupt DNA and result in changes to the tissues of our bodies that are exposed. Our eyes are particularly sensitive to this SWL as is the thin-skin around our eyes meant to protect them.
SWL (blue) and Ultraviolet (UV) light can cause damage to the surface of the eye, specifically to a structure called the Conjunctiva. The Conjunctiva is a thin layer of tissue overlying the white part (Sclera) and the pink parts of the underside of our eyelids. If your eye is exposed to higher amounts of SWL and/or UV light over long periods of time you are at risk of developing benign growths called Pingueculae and Pterygia. These growths can change the characteristics of the surface of the eye by decreasing physical comfort, increasing redness, forming “bumps” on the surface and dulling the “whiteness” of eyes. Damage from both types of light may play a role in certain cancers of the eye such as ocular melanoma as well as cancers of the eyelids, which are mostly carcinomas. Exposure to UV rays from the sun has also been linked to the development of macular degeneration, the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 65.
While scary, many of these conditions can be prevented by wearing sunglasses or lenses that block UV light. This is a particularly poignant conversation for May, as May is Ultraviolet Awareness Month. Damage from short-wavelength and UV light is cumulative over a lifetime, so it is important to start protecting eyes as early as possible. Optometrists we recommend sun protection for people of all ages and start with our youngest patients. The best protection is provided by wearing Polarized sunglasses, although Transitions lenses (lenses that darken and lighten based on the amount of exposure to the sun) are also very effective at protecting the eyes from UV.
Most eye doctors agree protecting the eyes from UV for all patients is standard of care. Start young, be sure to wear sunglasses when outside and especially when outdoors on the water or on the snow – the reflection from these surfaces increases exposure. Be sure to ask your doctor and optician what options are best for you and your family as well. For additional information connect with me on twitter @EyeInfo and read our daily #eyefacts tweets,
Dr. Alan Glazier is a member of Vision Source, the nation’s largest network of private practice optometrists. To find a Vision Source optometrist near you, visit www.visionsource.com.