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Thanks to increased awareness about the perils of exposure to ultraviolet rays and skin damage, a greater number of people routinely apply sunscreen before spending time outdoors. But while people take steps to prevent sunburns, skin cancer and premature aging, they may fail to consider that UV rays also can damage their eyes.
Just as people protect their skin from the sun, so, too, should they safeguard their eyes. Prevent Blindness America warns that the sun is comprised of UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays may hurt central vision by damaging the macula, or a part of the retina at the back of the eye. UVB rays typically affect the front part of the eye or the lens and cornea. The following are some common eye conditions that can be linked to exposure to UV rays.
Excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time can cause photokeratitis, which is equivalent to a sunburn of the eye. Photokeratitis may occur after spending long hours at the beach or skiing without proper eye protection. UVB rays cause photokeratitis, and these rays can burn the cornea, potentially causing pain and temporary vision loss.
According to the American Optometric Association, macular degeneration is a deterioration of the part of the retina that is responsible for sharp, central vision. In addition to UV rays, chronic exposure to shorter-wavelength visible blue and violet light can be harmful to the retina. The sun and many artificial light sources, such as LEDs and smartphones, emit blue light. Some blue light can be beneficial, but some can be harmful to the eyes. Lenses that absorb harmful blue light or block it can prevent retinal damage.
Pterygium is a growth that forms on the outer portion of the eye, or the cornea and conjunctiva. The World Health Organization says that prolonged UV exposure can contribute to this condition. Pterygium may extend over the cornea and reduce vision, requiring surgical removal.
UV exposure also can contribute to the formation of cataracts. Prevent Blindness America says a cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, the part of the eye that focuses the light people see.
Sunglasses should completely cover the eyes, including the skin on the eyelids and under the eye, to provide adequate protection for the eyes. Wraparound frames will offer additional protection to those who spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight. The AOA says sunglasses should also do the following.
• Block out 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation.
• Screen out between 75 and 90 percent of visible light.
• Have lenses that are perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection.
• Have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition.
Consumers should speak with an eye doctor if they have additional questions about eye protection. Prescription lenses can be tinted and treated to offer UV protection.