Over the last month, we’ve devoted more than a few pages on this blog to the topic of sunglasses and UV light. And rightfully so. It’s summer, the sun is high, and people are spending more time outside than any other time of the year. Protecting your eyes and skin is a deservedly a hot topic right now.
But while we’ve talked about the importance of wearing sunglasses to shield your eyeballs from harmful UV rays, we haven’t actually explained what UV rays are and why they’re harmful.
So what is UV light?
Ultraviolet light (or rays or radiation) is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than visible light. UV light is found in sunlight and emitted by electric arcs (this is why welders wear those crazy helmets), tanning beds and lasers.
There are three types of UV radiation – UVA, UVB, and UVC.
+UVC is absorbed by the ozone and atmosphere, and, as long as we have both of those, doesn’t pose much threat to our wellbeing.
+ UVB is mostly absorbed in the atmosphere, but what does reach us is still dangerous to the skin and eyes.
+ UVA makes its way from the sun to the ground almost unimpeded, damaging biological systems (like us) along the way.
What are the effects of UV light?
When most people think of UV light, the first thing that usually comes to mind is sunburn. What they don’t realize, though, is that a sunburn is much more than just the sun heating the skin. It’s a radiation burn that can result in cellular damage.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization classified all categories and wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation as a Group 1 carcinogen, the highest-level designation for carcinogens. This means “There is enough evidence to conclude that it can cause cancer in humans”.
While the effects of UV radiation on the skin are obviously serious and extensive, so too are its effects on vision and eye health. Some of the most common and severe eye conditions caused by UV exposure include:
+ Macular Degeneration (AMD) – A medical condition that usually affects older adults and results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field (the macula) because of damage to the retina.
+ Cataracts – A clouding of the lens inside the eye which leads to a decrease in vision. An estimated 10% of all cataract cases are directly related to UV exposure.
+ Pterygium – Known as “surfer’s eye,” pterygium is a pink, benign growth that forms on the conjunctiva over the white of the eye.
+ Skin Cancer – Prolonged UV exposure is linked to skin cancer in and around the eyelids.
+ Photokeratitis – More commonly known as “snow blindness,” photokeratitis is a sunburn of the cornea and conjunctiva resulting from high short-term exposure to UVB rays. Symptoms include increased tears, pain likened to having sand in the eyes, and even temporary vision loss.
Who’s at risk and how do you protect your eyes from UV radiation?
Everyone is at risk of eye damage from UV radiation. Especially children, because they tend to spend more time outdoors during the summer and are more difficult to keep in sunglasses.
Because UV rays are easily reflected and can bounce off of particles in the air, bright surfaces, water, and the ground itself, harmful radiation can come from all directions. Wearing hats (the floppier the better) and proper eyewear is very important.
Look for sunglasses that have the following features:
+ Stop 99%-100% of UVA and UVB rays.
+ Block out 75%-90% of visible light.
+ Have gray lenses for proper color recognition.
+ Have perfectly color-matched lenses that are free of distortions and imperfections.
Now that you’re practically an expert on UV radiation and protection, there’s only one thing left to do. Go outside and (SAFELY) enjoy the sunshine!