It is hard to resist a beautiful sunny day with no clouds in the sky. Our human nature demands we dash outside and grab a few rays of sunshine. However, have you considered what impact the sun will have on your eyes?
It is possible to enjoy the sun without irreparable damage to your eyes. You simply need to know what you are dealing with and the options for protection. The phrase UV protection is common and is often applied to circumstances where the skin is in danger from UV ray exposure.
Not everyone knows that UV rays can cause considerable damage to your eyes. This can range from temporary discomfort to long-term vision loss. Fortunately, much of the damage is preventable. Using sunglasses and protective eyeglasses are two essential ways to guard against potential damage.
Understanding UV Radiation
To guard your eyes, it is essential to know some facts about UV radiation. Sunlight is the primary source of UV radiation, but man-made sources are very common. Things like welding torches, mercury lamps, tanning beds, and UV sanitising bulbs engineered to kill bacteria all emit UV radiation. So, it is necessary for appropriate protection for your eyes if you are exposed to these circumstances.
There are three kinds of UV radiation.
UVA Radiation – Even though UVA rays are the weakest, they still cause damage and increase the rate of cellular aging.
UVB Radiation – Exposure to UVB rays causes more harm to the human body because these rays are stronger UVA rays. Rather than aging cells, these rays cause sunburn and also can cause various types of cancer, including melanoma of the eye.
UVC Radiation – These rays from the sun never reach the ground because their reaction with the ozone layer prevents it.
The potential effects of UV radiation on the eyes include:
Corneal Sunburn (Photokeratitis)
Melanoma of the Eye
Other cancers, such as skin cancer on the eyelids and around the eye area
Risks of UV Radiation to the Eyes
There are short and long-term risks associated with UVA and UVB rays.
In the short-term, overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause a condition called Corneal Sunburn or photokeratitis. The condition results in blurry vision and eye pain. In severe cases, there can be temporary loss of sight.
Because the effect of the damage to the eyes is cumulative, short-term issues frequently build into long-term problems. These risks include:
Cataracts – UVB rays damage the proteins in your lenses. Over time, the damaged proteins clump together, impairing vision. These are cataracts. Once formed, there is no reversing the course of cataracts and ultimately, the lenses in your eye must be replaced.
Macular Degeneration – UVA and UVB rays will damage the central part of your retina, known as the macula. Once this area is damaged, your central vision will degrade. This condition is a leading cause of vision loss among older adults.
Eye Cancer – Just as UV rays can cause skin cancer, they are a leading cause of eye cancers, especially on the surface of the eye. Older adults are increasingly diagnosed with various eye cancers because of long-term exposure to the sun without proper protection.
UV Protection in Eyeglasses and Sunglasses
Protective eyewear is one of the best ways to defend against UV rays. Whether you wear sunglasses or spectacles, you can protect your eyes by ensuring the lenses have UVA and UVB blocking.
Unlike standard glasses, protective eyeglasses or sunglasses are explicitly made to block these rays. Check that both types of UV rays are noted on the glasses for the best protection. This is important because protecting against only one type of ultraviolet ray will leave your eyes vulnerable to damage from the other. Also, look for a rating that says 100 per cent of these rays are blocked.
Do not make the mistake of believing that sunglasses can protect your eyes because the lenses are very dark. The ability to block the rays has nothing to do with dark lenses. The lenses must be treated to block the rays.
Benefits of Wearing UV-Protected Eyewear
There are several benefits for people who wear eyeglasses or sunglasses, including UVA and UVB protection.
Preventing short-term eye damage
Reducing your chances of eye damage that leads to eye diseases
Protecting your eyes if you spend much time outdoors and are light sensitive
Assuring you can enjoy your time outdoors without dry or painful eyes due to over-exposure
Maintaining your eye health for a lifetime
Tips for Selecting UV-Protected Eyewear
When you are choosing sunglasses for UVA and UVB protection, there are several points to keep in mind.
Avoid choosing glasses labelled category 0 and 1 as they offer no UV protection and are known as fashion spectacles, not sunglasses.
Choose sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067.1:2016. Look for a lens category of 2, 3 or 4. These sunglasses absorb 95% of UV radiation.
If the sunglasses are marked with an Eye Protection Factor (EPF). Purchase those with an EPF of 9 or 10. These block almost all UV radiation.
Choose a pair that sit comfortably on your face. Getting sunglasses that wrap around, are close fitting and have large lenses are ideal for reducing reflected UV radiation and glare.
If you are getting prescription eyeglasses, you would likely benefit from a consultation with an ophthalmologist or optometrist. They can go over all of the variables from your prescription and guide you to an ideal pair.
Caring for UV-Protected Eyewear
Once you have your UVA and UVB protective lenses, proper care is necessary to get the best protection and longest life from your glasses or sunglasses.
Understand that you can clean your lenses too much. Unnecessary touching or applying harsh chemical cleaners can scratch the lenses and degrade the coating.
Your eye care specialist typically offers a cleaning solution that will not harm your lenses. This is your best option to care for spectacles or sunglasses.
Use a soft, lint-free cloth such as micro-fibre to dry your lenses.
NEVER use a paper towel or your shirt on your glasses.
If a lens cleaning solution is not available, use a stream of plain water from the tap. Do not use window cleaner or saliva.
Store your eyewear in the case they came in and avoid setting them down with the lenses touching a surface. Do not drop them into a pocket or purse unprotected.
While protecting your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays is vital, you must remember to care for your eyes. You can avoid numerous eye diseases in the future by investing in your eye health today. Buy quality sunglasses to ensure that your eyes are safe. Be sure to schedule an eye exam and speak with our eyecare experts about spectacles that protect your eyes from UV rays.
Stephanie is an owner optometrist, researcher and educator. She has held clinical, teaching and research roles in Australia and overseas, and has extensive training and clinical experience. Stephanie is also the head optometrist at E Eye Place, on top of this, she is also currently a PhD candidate at UNSW. Dr Stephanie Yeo Optometrist BOptom (HC1) GradCertOcTher DOPT (Merit) CO Ophthalmic Medicines Prescriber.