When it comes to summertime in the United States, the month of July stands out as the pinnacle of the summer season. With ideal weather conditions, Independence Day celebrations, vacation opportunities, outdoor activities, and sporting events, July encapsulates the essence of the quintessential American summer. And for all those sun-fueled reasons, July has been declared Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Awareness Month.
UV Safety Awareness Month
While most people associate UV rays with the risks they pose to their skin, it’s crucial to recognize that prolonged exposure can also harm your eyes. UV Safety Awareness Month was established to inform people about the dangers of UV light exposure and teach them how to protect their eyes and skin from UV rays while still enjoying outdoor activities.
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The Importance of UV Safety
The first step in living a healthy lifestyle is to spend plenty of time outside in natural sunlight. Enjoying the great outdoors offers numerous health benefits, including improved mood, increased vitamin D synthesis, heightened physical activity, and enhanced overall well-being. However, it is essential to strike a balance between fun in the sun and sun protection, as excessive exposure to UV radiation can lead to severe health problems.
Understanding UV Rays
UV radiation is a type of energy emitted by the sun that falls into three categories–UVA, UVB, and UVC.
- UVA radiation has the longest wavelength and makes up 95% of the UV rays that reach the earth’s surface. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin’s middle layer and can pass through glass. UVA is the primary radiation used in tanning beds and damages the collagen and elastin in the skin, causing wrinkles and premature skin aging. It also generates free radicals.
- UVB rays make up only 5% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth’s surface but are very high energy. Even though UVB doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply as UVA, it can severely damage skin cells on the top layer, causing DNA mutations that lead to melanoma and other skin cancers. UVB radiation can also cause cataracts by damaging proteins in the eye’s lens.
- UVC radiation has the shortest wavelength and the highest energy but is completely absorbed by the ozone layer before it reaches Earth. The only way to be exposed to UVC radiation is through artificial light sources like welding torches, germicidal UVC lamps, mercury UVC lights, and deep ultraviolet lasers.
Peak Times and Sources of UV Rays
UV radiation can come from multiple sources, including the sun, tanning beds, and some artificial lights. UV rays are present year-round, even on cloudy or overcast days. However, their intensity varies based on time of day, season, geographical location, altitude, and reflective surfaces. Generally, UV radiation is strongest in the summer and from 10 AM to 4 PM when the sun is at its highest point in the sky.
How UV Rays Damage Your Eyes
While people often associate UV radiation with skin damage, your eyes are equally vulnerable. The cornea, lens, and retina are particularly susceptible to UV damage. Prolonged and excessive exposure to UV rays can harm various structures of the eye and lead to several eye problems, including:
- Photokeratitis. Also known as “sunburn of the eye,” this condition occurs when the cornea is exposed to intense UVB rays, resulting in temporary discomfort, redness, and blurry vision.
- Cataracts. UV exposure over time can increase the risk of developing cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, leading to vision impairment and potential blindness.
- Macular Degeneration. Chronic exposure to UV rays can accelerate the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss in older adults.
- Pterygium. Prolonged UV exposure can cause the growth of non-cancerous tissue on the whites of the eyes, known as pterygium. Pterygium may cause discomfort and affect vision if it extends over the cornea.
Tips for Protecting Your Eyes and Skin
From little league baseball tournaments and pool parties to fishing trips and golf scrambles, summer is full of outdoor activities you should feel comfortable enjoying. Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take to protect your eyes and skin from harmful UV radiation.
- Wear UV-blocking sunglasses. Choose sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Luckily, this level of eye protection can be found anywhere from designer brands to dollar stores. Just look for sunglasses labeled as offering UV400 or 100% UV protection.
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreen. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed skin, including the face, neck, ears, and hands. No SPF blocks 100% of UV rays, so be sure to apply it generously before going out into the sun and again every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat. A hat with a wide brim can keep direct sunlight and harmful UV radiation off your face, neck, and even shoulders.
- Seek shade. Limit direct sun exposure during peak UV hours, especially when the sun’s rays are strongest. Shade from umbrellas, trees, canopies, or other structures can provide UV protection and help you cool off.
- Wear protective clothing. It’s not always feasible to completely cover up when you’re outdoors, but always choose UV-protective clothing when you can. Many activewear brands offer UV protection and make long-sleeve shirts and pants to be more comfortable in the heat.
- Don’t stare at reflections. Water, sand, and snow can reflect UV rays, increasing exposure. Take extra precautions in these environments by protecting your eyes and skin.
- Avoid tanning beds. Artificial tanning devices emit harmful UV radiation, increasing the risk of eye damage and skin cancer.
10 Can’t-miss Outdoor Activities You Have to Experience in OKC This Summer
When it comes to enjoying the summer in Oklahoma City, there are plenty of exciting outdoor activities to keep you entertained. Remember to stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and dress appropriately for the weather while exploring all that OKC has to offer this summer.
- Scissortail Park
Located right in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City, Scissortail Park is a vast and expansive 70-acre green space. Scissortail Park has something for everyone with a variety of engaging experiences, including ornamental gardens and woodlands, a 3.7-acre lake, a children’s playground and nature play area, an expansive splash pad, a seasonal roller rink, dog park, sports courts, a picnic grove, restaurant, farmer’s market, and performance stage and great lawn.
- Lake Hefner
Lake Hefner is one of OKC’s favorite outdoor destinations. Head to Lake Hefner for a day full of sailing, jogging, walking, biking, fishing, picnicking, golfing, and dining. In fact, there’s so much to do and see at Lake Hefner, you’ll need more than a day to experience it all.
- RIVERSPORT OKC
Experience the thrill of extreme sports and exciting adventures with RIVERSPORT OKC at some of Oklahoma City’s beloved waterways. RIVERSPORT Adventure Parks can be found in the Boathouse District, at Lake Hefner, and Lake Overholser. RIVERSPORT adventures include surfing, skiing, whitewater rafting and kayaking, tubing, paddle boarding, wall climbing, ropes course, zip line, slides, bike park, and more.
- Wheeler District
Take a ride on the iconic Wheeler Ferris Wheel located in the Wheeler District. From the top, you can enjoy stunning views of the Oklahoma City skyline. Visit the Wheeler District throughout the summer for unique experiences, including concerts, food trucks, pop-up vendors, a weekly farmer’s market, and a weekly cycling festival.
- Martin Park Nature Center
Escape the city buzz and immerse yourself in nature at Martin Park Nature Center. With its scenic trails, woodlands, and wildlife viewing opportunities, visitors are welcome to explore Martin Park on their own or participate in one of the center’s many guided nature programs.
- Bricktown Canal and Water Taxis
Discover the vibrant Bricktown district by strolling along the picturesque Bricktown Canal. Enjoy the unique architecture, bustling restaurants, and lively atmosphere. For a different perspective, hop on a Water Taxi and cruise through the canal while learning about the area’s history and landmarks.
- OKC Zoo
The Oklahoma City Zoo offers a delightful blend of wildlife and natural beauty. Explore 130 acres of animal habitats and botanical gardens with more than 1,900 species from around the world.
- OKC Dodgers Baseball Game
Experience the excitement of an LA Dodgers minor league baseball game by catching the OKC Dodgers at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. Cheer on the home team, indulge in ballpark snacks, and soak up the lively atmosphere.
- Hurricane Harbor
Six Flags Hurricane Harbor is a 20-acre waterpark in Northwest OKC with 35 water rides. From the children’s play area to the thrilling Mega Wedgie slide, there is something for everyone in the family at Hurricane Harbor.
- Frontier City
Frontier City is a western-themed amusement park in Northeast OKC that has been entertaining families since 1958. Today’s frontier city offers rides and roller coasters for all ages, Hollywood stunt gunfight shows, and a water park.
Have Fun in the Sun Safely
As you enjoy the sunny days of summer, please remember the importance of UV Safety Awareness Month and the potential harm UV rays can cause to your eyes and skin. By adopting simple yet effective protective measures, such as wearing sunglasses, applying sunscreen, and seeking shade when necessary, you can safeguard your eyes and skin, ensuring a healthier and brighter future.
Stay safe and enjoy the outdoors responsibly!