The Importance of UV Protection

Every day - whether it is sunny or cloudy, we are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Often we don t realize it since UV radiation is invisible to the eye. Out of sight however, should not mean out of mind!

Sun can damage skin in many ways including wrinkling, skin cancer, premature aging and burning. The sun can also be harmful to your eyes. Too much unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) can cause photokeratitis. Like skin sunburn, photokeratitis is sunburn of the eye. It can be very painful and often results in redness tearing and sensitivity to light. These symptoms usually clear up quickly and cause no permanent damage to the eye.

However, unprotected exposure over long periods of time can - and often does - damage the eye. Exposure to UV can greatly increase the chance of cataracts and damage to the retina. Both conditions can seriously impair vision.

Fortunately, damage can be prevented by wearing UV eye protection. This is especially true for children whose risk is higher because the lens in their eye doesn't block as much UV and because they spend so much time outside.

Here are a few important points to keep in mind before you send your child outside.

  • Almost 50% of parents report that their children "seldom" or "never" wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection.
  • Although 82% of parents feel it is important for children to wear sunglasses and 91% feel sunscreen should be worn, children are two times more likely to wear sunscreen than they are sunglasses.
  • The lens' in children's eyes do not block as many UV rays as they do in adult's eyes putting them at increased risk for sun damage.

Adults also need to take precaution when they are in the sun. Before you go out without a pair of sunglasses, take note of the facts about UV damage.

  • Certain medications such as birth control pills, sulfa drugs, diuretics and tranquilizers can increase your risk to eye disease or impairment.
  • Damage can include blurred vision change in colour vision or difficulty seeing at night.
  • UV rays can cause macular degeneration cataracts and cancer among other diseases.

The damage from harmful UVA and UVB radiation is cumulative over a person's lifetime and may contribute to serious age-related diseases of the eye and sensitive areas around the eye. Because the damage is cumulative it is important to protect eyes every day in all light conditions.

Protecting yourself and your children from the effects of UV rays on your eyes is easy. Wearing sunglasses with 100% UV protection is the best way to shield your eyes from the sun as well as dirt dust and other particles that can irritate the eyes.

Sunglasses - with or without a prescription - that can block out nearly all UV radiation are now readily available. Lenses should be gray green or brown and the larger the lenses the better. Wrap-around sunglasses provide an extra measure of protection as does wearing a hat with a wide brim.

Contact lens wearers can get lenses that filter out a lot of UV radiation. While these lenses should not be used in place of sunglasses they help screen out light that comes in around the top and sides of glasses.

People at high risk for developing problems from UV exposure include those who spend long hours in the sun because of work or recreation, those who have had cataract and/or refractive surgery, individuals who have certain retinal disorders and people who take certain medications such as tetracycline, sulfa drugs, birth control pills, diuretics and tranquilizers. They increase the eyes sensitivity to light.

Buying sunglasses from a professional or a professional organization is the best bet. This ensures the sunglasses have the appropriate amounts of UV filtering and are the most suitable protection for your eyes while in the sun. Buying sunglasses from street vendors is risky. There s no assurance that the eyewear no matter how dark the lens will protect against UV rays.

Another way to help protect your eyes from UV rays is to wear photochromic lenses which are eyeglass lenses that darken when exposed to UV light. Photochromics are a good choice for an everyday lens because they automatically protect against UV. While sunglasses give comfort in very bright light conditions they are not always convenient in changing light conditions.

Photochromics are available in plastic and glass and recent innovations have made the plastic lenses much lighter, scratch-resistant and shatter-proof. They are the most versatile option for prescription wearers. It is important to note however that not all plastic photochromic lenses block 100% UVA and UVB radiation. For more information about the damaging effects of UV contact our professionals - at Cole Harbour Optometry!