Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can be harmful. UV rays have been linked to various skin cancers, including the dangerous melanoma. However, UV exposure also can cause issues elsewhere in the body, including the eyes. In fact, the American Academy of Ophthalmology says everyone’s eyes are at risk of damage from UV light, regardless of age or skin pigmentation. The physicians at Eye Care Vision Associates (ECVA) agree, and note that some people are at even higher risk, such as children, because they often play outside. Some studies also show that people with eye diseases like retinal dystrophy or those who have undergone cataract surgery may be at higher risk for sun damage.

As a result, the physicians at ECVA offer the following information to help Western New Yorkers better care for their eyes this summer.

UV light and eye disease. UV light damages eye cells, particularly in the retina, which is responsible for capturing light that enters the eye and translating it into images. If the retina becomes damaged, vision can be impaired or even lost. Some additional eye diseases are also associated with UV radiation.

  • Photokeratitis. This is the equivalent of a sunburn on the surface of the eye. While it can occur during the summer, the sun reflecting off of snow or light-colored pavement also can contribute to photokeratitis at other times of the year.
  • Cataracts: UVB radiation can harm the lens of the eye and damage proteins. Over time, these proteins can clump together to form cataracts.
  • Conjunctival cancer: This is a form of cancer that forms on the surface of the eye, known as the conjunctiva.
  • Macular degeneration: This is the leading cause of vision loss among older people. The macula is the center of the retina, and if this area becomes damaged, central vision will be compromised.

Protect vision. The good news is that it is easy to protect the eyes from UV rays. Individuals with blue or green eyes should keep in mind that they are at a high risk of UV damage. However, everyone should take precautions.

  • Look for sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays, offering 99 to 100% protection (or UV400 rating). UVA rays harm central vision, while UVB rays can damage the front of the eye. Sunglasses should be worn when spending time outdoors. Sunglasses are available in all sizes, even for kids. Wraparound styles may protect the eyes and sides of the face.
  • Wearing a wide-brimmed hat also can protect the eyes by filtering harmful light. Select a hat with a broad, dark brim that shades the eyes and reduces glare, advises the National Eye Institute.
  • Consider using UV-blocking contact lenses. Some contact lenses offer UV protection, which can be an added precaution when used with sunglasses. Another way to avoid UV eye risks is to stay away from tanning booths, mercury vapor lights, and some types of halogen or fluorescent lights.

To learn more about UV eye damage and how to prevent it, speak with an eye professional.