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Understanding UV Radiation and How It Harms Vision

Monday, November 10, 2014 @ 04:11 AM
Author: Amit Mathur


Ultraviolet or UV light, is a necessity in this world. Plants rely on this light to exist, and humans and animals alike also require it. By now, you’ve heard all of the warnings about the dangers of unprotected exposure to sunlight. It can cause skin cancer and a number of other skin maladies. However, while you lather on that sunscreen, you’re probably not thinking much about how your eyes can be affected by UV light.

What Is UV Light?

As mentioned, UV light is that which emanates from the sun or other bright light sources. A few different kinds exist. UVA radiation has the most expansive wavelength and further breaks down into UVAI and UVAII wavelengths. UVB radiation then does not expand as far as UVA radiation can and does not have any other subtypes. UVA and UVB radiation can be harmful to both your eyes and your skin.

The third type of UV radiation is called UVC light. Unlike UVA and UVB radiation though, UVC radiation tends to exist on an ozone level only, where the ozone layer there prevents the radiation from ever affecting life on earth. Therefore, you only need to concern yourself with UVA and UVB radiation.

How Does UV Light Harm Vision?

If you’ve ever been warned never to look directly at the sun, then you’re aware that UV light can harm your eyes. The more that your eyes are exposed to UV radiation, the better the chances are that you could develop a number of eye conditions and disorders. Cataracts are a common result of too much sun exposure to the eyes. UVB radiation tends to be responsible for causing cataracts. Photokeratitis also goes by the name of corneal sunburn, which should be self-explanatory. This condition can lead to vision issues and very sore eyes. It too is caused primarily by UVB radiation.

Pterygium is caused by either UVA or UVB radiation. When you have this condition, a pink deformity appears on your eye whites, detracting from appearance and vision. The condition also goes by the name of surfer’s eye. You could also develop macular degeneration from too much sunlight. This condition is also caused by either UVA or UVB radiation. You can even develop skin cancer on your eyelids if you spend too much time outdoors without taking the proper precautions.

Of course, more than just sunlight puts you at risk of developing these vision disorders from UV radiation. If you go tanning a lot, work outside, live by or spend time in a mountainous area, take medications that alter how you react to light (such as sulfa medications, diuretics, tetracycline, or birth control), you’ve had cataract or other eye surgery, work with electronic circuit boards that emit bright light, you’ve had retinal issues in the past, or you live in the Sunbelt in the United States, you’re at increased risk of experiencing eye damage from UV radiation.

How Do You Protect Your Eyes from UV Light?

While you can apply sunscreen on your skin, you cannot do the same for your eyes. Your best protection from harmful UV rays from the sun or other sources is to wear UV sunglasses. You should read about the sunglasses before you purchase them and ensure that they do indeed block out both UVA and UVB light so that you know you’re getting the best vision protection. If you already wear glasses, speak to your eye doctor about your options. You can always order a pair of prescription sunglasses. Some types of lenses on regular glasses can change to become tinted when exposed to light, giving you another option.

You should also remember to wear a hat if you plan on spending a lot of time outside. For women, large sunhats will keep your face and thus your eyes protected, while for men, large-brimmed hats or even baseball hats (when the cap is positioned in the front) will provide adequate protection. You should wear a hat with sunglasses for the most protection.

Also, watch the times that you go outside. UV radiation changes with the rate of sunlight, so when the sun’s at its strongest at around 10 o’ clock in the morning until about two o’ clock in the afternoon, you should try to limit your time outdoors. As mentioned above, mountainous regions put you more at risk of UV radiation exposure due to their altitude. Lower altitudes mean less UV radiation. If you live close to the equator, your chances of UV exposure increase. In these cases, you may want to consider moving or at least limit your time outside.

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