UV Or Not UV? That Is The Question


– By Stephen Cohen, O.D.

It’s “that” time of year. As we move from the season that reminds us why we live here, to the one that makes us question our sanity for living here, we tend to pay extra attention to protecting our skin from the potential ravages of Ultra-Violet Radiation (UVR). We consider things like “SPF” and UV “indices.” What we don’t often consider is the full affect the sun has on our eyes, particularly for our children, since up to 80 percent of lifetime UVR exposure occurs by age 18. Surveys show that whereas almost nine out of 10 people understand that UVR can be damaging to our skin, nine out of 10 do not realize the potential damage that repeated UVR exposure can have on our eyes. Unfortunately, like skin damage, the effect of UVR to our eyes is cumulative, and may not show up for decades. For example, up to one-third of all cataracts are as a result of long-term UV exposure. There are also unsightly benign growths on the white part of our eyes that result directly from UVR exposure, as well as cancerous growths, and potential retinal damage (e.g., macular degeneration).

UV coatings in glasses and contact lenses are virtually clear. The degree of tinting (lens darkness) merely determines how much the visible light might be reduced. Recent research has shown that, beyond just UVR, the “blue” end of the visible radiation spectrum can penetrate deeper into our eyes. This blue light that is emitted in notable amounts by newer overhead lighting, as well as computers and hand-held devices, may contribute to the development of macular degeneration. Newer glasses coatings are now available, which will block UVR and blue light. For sunglasses, although even cheaper lenses can have adequate UV protection, they may distort vision as a result of inferior optics of the lenses. Sunglasses should have three qualifications: ample coverage to protect the eyelids (one of the major locations for the development of melanoma) as well as the sides of the eyes, good optics and adequate levels of UV-blocking. On another note, most contact lenses offer about 10 percent UVR protection, however, there are now contact lenses that provide protection equivalent to sunglasses.

Optimal UVR protection involves a hat with a brim, sunglasses and where appropriate, contact lenses with UVR protection. This summer, while you’re looking for those few inches of shade, or applying layers of sunscreen, give your most precious sense some consideration as well. In the long run, your eyes will thank you for it.

Photo credit: Abdulrahman BinSlmah viaFoter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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