The Sun, UV and Your Eyes: What's The Damage?
We know that spending a prolonged period in the sun is dangerous, but what does it do to our eyes? Most of us are aware of the life-threatening skin cancers and remember to protect our skin by applying sunblock, although sun safety is heavily engrained in our lifestyle, the reasons for wearing sunglasses are often overlooked.
The Sun, UV and Your Eyes: What's The Damage?
We know that spending a prolonged period in the sun is dangerous, but what does it do to our eyes? Most of us are aware of the life-threatening skin cancers and remember to protect our skin by applying sunblock, although sun safety is heavily engrained in our lifestyle, the reasons for wearing sunglasses are often overlooked. Understanding the long-term effects that the sun can have on our eyes is important to take the proper measures to avoid these problems down the track, we're here to break down the most common eye conditions to encourage you to wear sunglasses all year round.
Before we jump into eye conditions associated with UV light exposure, let's get an understanding of the three most common forms of UV light. In the visible light spectrum, sunlight produces three main types of UV rays: UVA, UVB and UVC.
1. UVA light makes up 95% of the UV radiation that reaches earth and causes the skin to tan and age. UVA penetrates the skin the most which affect the inner layers of the skin and our eyes.
2. UVB affects the outer layer of skin, resulting in sunburn and skin blistering with the risk of skin cancer. UVB affects the corneas of your eyes and the clear front part of the eyeball, causing irritation and light sensitivity.
3. UVC is the most damaging form of UV light, but lucky for us, the majority of UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer before it reaches us.
The Top 5 Eye Conditions Resulting From UV Exposure
A cataract is a cloudy area that covers the lens of your eye and is the result of long-term exposure to the sun. There is a common misconception that cataracts only occur when we're older, however, cataracts will develop much more rapidly in those who have constant exposure to the sun. As cataracts develop over time, they can make your vision blurry, hazy and less colourful. While cataracts can be removed from surgery, it is recommended to wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection. Non-smokers and those with a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and antioxidants will reduce the onset of cataracts down the track.
Photokeratitis is a temporary but usually painful eye condition caused by UV ray overexposure. Besides direct sunlight, photokeratitis can occur from sunlight that reflects into your eyes from reflective surfaces like water, snow, ice and cement, as well as tanning beds and electrical sparks. This condition is said to be like a sunburn affecting the cornea and the conjunctiva with symptoms usually last from a few hours up to a couple of days in some cases. The best preventative is wearing polarised sunglasses whenever you are exposed to bright light conditions and wearing protective eyewear while operating machinery.
More commonly experienced by people who spend lots of time outdoors exposed to the sun and other elements like wind, smoke and sand, Pterygium, also known as Surfer's Eye, is a triangular growth that begins on the clear tissues of one or both eyes and can spread to the cornea. Pterygium is a noncancerous, painless growth that may appear slightly raised with blood vessels, while it can be removed from surgery, Pterygia may grow back despite successful surgery. Symptoms may include irritation or eye discomfort.
Pinguecula presents as a white or yellow raised area or bump within the conjunctiva, and is particularly common in those who live in very sunny, dry, windy or dusty environments. While Pinguecula doesn't go away by itself, it can be treated if it becomes red or swollen with eye drops. Though typically a harmless growth, it is best to avoid Pinguecula by wearing sunglasses, protecting your eyes from dust and other elements by wearing glasses or goggles, and using eye drops if eyes become dry.
Macular Degeneration is damage to the retinal tissue or macula which is caused by long-term sun exposure. As the macula is where we get our central vision, and the retina is the multi-layer lining of the inside of the eye, Macular Degeneration causes loss of central vision resulting in blurriness and blank spaces. This condition progresses slowly and is most common in those over the age of 50 with evidence that this occurs in those who have had more sun exposure throughout their life. Currently, there is no cure for Macular Degeneration, treatment is only used to slow the progression.