Even during the winter months, your eyes may still be at risk for UV damage. Day-to-day UV exposure can cause serious damage to our skin and our eyes, even if it’s cloudy, overcast, or a cold winter day. Luckily, there are several simple and effective steps that can be taken to protect your eyes from harmful sun exposure.
It’s well known that staring at the sun can cause severe and permanent vision loss. UV light can also cause damage to the eyes over time, even without staring directly at the sun. Radiation from the sun can affect several different portions of the eye over time, from front to back. It has been shown to hasten the development and progression of cataracts. Chronic exposure to sunlight may lead to the development pingueculas or pterygiums, which are two types of overgrowths of fibrous tissue on the front surface of the eye. Excessive UV exposure may even increase the risk of developing a potentially blinding condition known as macular degeneration. Additionally, the skin around the eyes may be at risk for developing skin cancers related to sun exposure.
The obvious solution to protecting your eyes from potentially harmful UV rays is to wear sunglasses outside. But there’s more to sun protection than meets the eye. Not all sunglass lenses are completely effective in blocking out the harmful rays of the sun, even if they appear to be completely dark. To ensure proper protection of eyes, sunglass lenses need to block at least 95% of UVA/UVB rays. Some cheap sunglasses may claim to block or absorb UV rays, while in actuality they may allow more than 50% of UV light to pass through the lenses. Additionally, tinted lenses may appear to provide protection from light, and may be more comfortable for the eyes on sunny days, but they are not able to provide effective UV blockage on their own. The same is true of polarized sunglass lenses. The best way to ensure that your sunglasses are providing adequate UV protection is to talk with your optician or optometrist.
If you have young children, protect their eyes by providing them with full-coverage UVA/UVB blocking sunglasses. If they are resistant to wearing glasses, try providing protection by wearing a wide-brimmed hat that can cast shade on their eyes. It’s never too early to enforce good habits that can result in improved ocular health.
Many studies are focusing on the effects of different lights on the health of the eye. As such, UV protection has become a point of interest in the eye care community. Some special lens materials, such as “hi-index lenses,” intrinsically provide UV protection without being darkened. Photochromatic lenses, which transition to sunglasses when exposed to UV light, also provide appropriate sun protection. In the future, we can even expect to see contact lenses that provide additional UV protection.
As the winter seasons draws to an end and we look forward to long days spent outside, don’t forget to protect your eyes, through sunny or cloudy days.