The Importance of UV Protection
We are all exposed to UV rays on a daily basis. Even on a cloudy day, high levels of UVA and UVB damaging rays penetrate the clouds. Everyone should wear good quality sunglasses that protect from both UVA and UVB rays. Contact lenses can provide some shielding, sunglasses should always be worn over them to fully protect the eyes and the skin surrounding them.
Our clients often tell us that their patients ask, “How can I tell a good quality pair of sunglasses?” For the best protection, sunglasses should block 99 to 100% of the damaging rays. They should be large enough to shield the eyes from rays from most angles. Your opticians can help choose a good quality, fashionable frame that can be adjusted to fit each and every patient perfectly. Glasses prescriptions can be used to create sunglasses that help patients see well, while providing the protection they need. Unlike over-the-counter sunglasses, you can provide frames that are warranteed to guarantee their fine workmanship and the lenses are warranted for scratch resistance. Your opticians can advise patients on the type and color of sunglass lenses. Polaroid lenses are great, especially for activities on the water. Photochromic lenses that change color can be a very practical alternative to a lens that is dark all the time. Many frames even come with a sun lens clip for extra convenience.
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How do the sun’s rays damage the eye?
Intense, short-term exposure can result in sunburn of the cornea, or photokeratitis. This is most often experienced while skiing or mountain climbing at altitudes where there are higher levels of UV rays. This effect is intensified by sunlight reflected by the snow. This sunburn affects the cornea – the lens on the front of the eye, causing discomfort and in extreme cases snow blindness, lasting until the cornea heals in a number of hours or days.
Few people ever experience snow blindness, but everyone’s eyes are affected over the years by the cumulative damage to the lens and retina. These include cancers of the skin surrounding the eyes, pinguecula, pterygium, cataracts and macular degeneration. Be sure your sunglasses are large and fit close to your eyes to help protect the delicate skin around them. Wearing a hat with a bill will give you added protection.
Often our eye doctor clients see patients who have pinguecula on the conjunctival surface of the eye. These are yellowish elevated deposits on the clear conjunctiva that covers the sclera or white part of the eye. Pinguecula are the body’s adaptation to the irritation of UV rays and are evidence of too much sun exposure. It’s never too late to get started wearing sunglasses to slow down the progression of sun damage. In equatorial regions many people have a much more visually threatening change to the eye’s surface called pterygium. These elevated wedge-shaped lesions can become so large that they obscure the vision and require surgical excision.
One last note – The clear cornea and lens of a child’s eye makes it even more susceptible to the sun’s damaging rays, though the damage may not show its effects for decades. Kids should always wear sunglasses and a hat.
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