What You Need to Know About How Ultraviolet Radiation Affects Your Eyes

You probably know that skin cancer is associated with ultraviolet radiation exposure, but did you know that ultraviolet radiation can harm your eyes as well? Here’s what you need to know. OptiExpress provides comprehensive eye exams, contact lens fittings, a gallery of designer frames, and a one-hour onsite lab.

Too much ultraviolet light exposure significantly raises your risk of skin cancer. Protective clothing and sunscreen can shield us from the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays, but we might not realize that our eyes are vulnerable to damage, too. It is estimated that more than 1/3 adults have suffered from symptoms related to ultraviolet light exposure, including swollen or red eyes, impaired vision, and eye irritation.

Fortunately, it is just as easy, if not easier, to protect your eyes from ultraviolet radiation as it is to protect your skin. Here are a few facts you should know.

What is ultraviolet radiation?

There are several different categories of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and two of them are broadly believed to be the cause of significant health risks, including skin cancer. These rays, UVA and UVB, enter the Earth’s atmosphere without having been filtered or altered, meaning that they can cause significant harm to the skin and eyes. The amount of damage can vary, depending upon numerous considerations, which include your location, the altitude, and the time of day.

Your vulnerability to UVA and UVB damage might also depend upon other factors, including your physical health, the medications you are currently on, and your environment. If you are surrounded by surfaces that are highly reflective, like water, snow, or sand, you will experience significantly higher UV exposure.

While you might think that you are exposed to less direct sunlight in the wintertime or when it is cold than you are when it is hot, temperature conditions have very little to do with the amount of UV rays entering the atmosphere. You are more likely to get a sunburn on a snowy mountain top in winter than you are in a shady city park in the summer.

What puts eyes at risk?

There are very many eye conditions that are directly linked to ultraviolet light exposure. These include cataracts, cancer, and macular degeneration.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most common eye health conditions caused by overexposure to UV radiation:

  • Cancer. It is estimated that approximately 10% of all skin cancer diagnoses originated in the patients’ eye areas. It is believed that the most common cause of tumors of the eyelid is ultraviolet radiation exposure.
  • Cataracts. Approximately 20% of all cases of cataracts stem from ultraviolet radiation, according to reports from the World Health Organization.
  • Macular degeneration. This is the number one cause of vision loss for adults over the age of 60, and consistent UV exposure is one of the main triggers.
  • Photokeratitis. This condition, more commonly known as snow blindness, is essentially a corneal sunburn. It leads to inflammation and occasionally temporary vision loss.
  • Pingueculae and pterygia. This condition leads to observable growths on the surface of the eye, which can cause visual distortion and corneal abnormalities.

The UV radiation exposure you experience in your youth can lead to vision problems later on. This is because the effects of ultraviolet radiation exposure are cumulative, and cannot be undone. Nevertheless, it is possible to reduce your personal risk and avoid worsening the condition.

Contact lenses and UV protection.

Did you know that approximately 45% of ultraviolet radiation from the sun can still reach your eyes through the sides top and bottom of your sunglasses?

Contact lenses give your eyes extra protection from harmful UV radiation. Researchers have found that ultraviolet radiation-blocking contact lenses might help reduce exposure to UV rays more effectively than sunglasses alone. This could possibly reduce the risk of developing UV radiation-related eye diseases, such as cataracts.

OptiExpress offers a wide assortment of contact lenses, both corrective and cosmetic, that provide ultraviolet radiation protection. However, it is important to note that the combination of ultraviolet light-absorbing contact lenses and sunglasses with 100% UV protection lenses offer the best possible amount of protection for your eyes. OptiExpress provides a Gallery of designer sunglasses, both prescription and non-prescription, that deliver 100% UV protection lenses.

OptiExpress founder Dr. J. Michael Witherington was voted top optometrist by members of the Cape Coral, Florida community. To schedule a contact lens fitting or an eye examination at either or Ft. Myers or Cape Coral location, please visit our contact page.