Harmful Effects of Ultraviolet Light
Everyone is at risk for eye damage from the sun. It is a year-round risk that is at its greatest from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The same harmful rays that damage skin can also increase the risk of developing eye problems. The long-term effects of UV radiation happen slowly and painlessly. Research has found that UV rays are involved in many of the serious eye disorders people experience today.
In the short-term, people who spend long hours on the beach or in the snow without adequate eye protection can develop photokeratitis, sunburn of the cornea, which can cause temporary loss of vision. The sunlight's reflection off of snow, sand or water, further increases a person's exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Most people are unfamiliar with the sensitive nature of their eyes. According to eye doctors, there are three surfaces within the eye that can be affected by sunlight or strong UV rays - the cornea and conjunctiva (exposure keratitis and pterygium), the lens (cataracts), and the retina (eclipse blindness and macular degeneration). These surfaces perform different functions that work together as the backbone of the eye structure.
How to Protect Your Eyes
To protect eyes from both short and long-term damage, people should wear sunglasses that block the sun's UV rays.
Sunglasses should be dark enough to reduce glare, but not so dark that they distort colors or affect the recognition of traffic signals. Tint is mainly a matter of personal preference, and does not play a major role in protection. Some of the UV protection comes from an invisible chemical applied to the lenses, not from the color or darkness of the lenses.
Prevent Blindness America, a volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness, recommends lenses that are neutral gray, amber, brown or green for the best color perception. People who wear contact lenses that offer UV protection should still wear sunglasses for vision comfort and glare reduction.
Most adults didn't wear sunglasses when they were kids but times have changed. Scientist have now learned that the earlier children start wearing sunglasses the better chance for preventing eye health problems later in life.
Sunglasses will not completely eliminate the risk of damage due to sun exposure. Light still enters from the sides of sunglasses and can be reflected into the eye. Some people choose sunglasses that wrap all the way around the temples. A hat with a three-inch brim can help block sunlight that comes in from overhead.
Protecting the eyes today helps protect sight for tomorrow. Eye damage from UV light can be painful, and it's not something that will go away with a couple of drops. It can affect a person for the rest of their life.