Knowledge of skin protection in the past ten years has dramatically improved from the past. It’s now common knowledge that unprotected sun exposure can cause skin cancer due to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. However, it’s not as widely known that the same UV rays can harm the eyes.
The Danger of UV Radiation
While a small amount of UV radiation is important for the body to produce vitamin D, prolonged exposure may result in acute and long term health problems because UV rays induce degenerative changes in the body’s cells.
More than 99 percent of UV radiation is absorbed by the front of the eyes, so it’s no wonder that it causes problems. Corneal damage, cataracts and macular degeneration, all of which can lead to blindness, are now being linked to excessive UV ray exposure. In fact, the type of dangerous skin cancer called melanoma can even develop within the eye.
People located closer to the earth’s equator are at greater risks of experiencing high UV levels, as with people at higher altitudes. UV levels are typically the strongest between 10 AM and 2 PM, making the mornings and evenings safer for outings. Certain medications can even increase the body’s sensitivity to UV rays.
The Best Safety Measures
The best safety measure of all is to avoid prolonged sun exposure between 10 AM and 4 PM altogether. If this isn’t possible, a hat and sunglasses can go a long way in eye protection.
Certain sunglasses are better than others to block UV rays in the same way that sunscreen does. Look for labels regarding UV radiation to guarantee that your shades will do their job well.
Children need even more protection than adults. Studies find that up to half of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV radiation occurs by age 18, and children are more susceptible to retinal damage because their clearer eye lenses allow the UV to penetrate deeper. Wide brimmed UV-safe hats and glasses are the best defense.