Forgetting your favorite pair of sunglasses can be a hassle: squinting all day, the sun shining in your eyes, and even possible sunburn. While these things can be annoying, it’s important to know that forgetting your sunglasses can have a much worse effect on you and your eyes than just squinting at the sun. Damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause a buildup of damage to our eyes (short term), leading to permanent damage later on in life (long term).
How does the sun affect my eyes?
UV light can affect all areas of our body, however, they can most seriously impact our eyes and the skin surrounding our eyes. We’re going to dive into some of the effects on the eyes caused by UV light.
Short Term Effects
Photokeratitis, also known as ultraviolet keratitis, is an eye condition caused by exposure to UV rays from the sun. Photokeratitis is often referred to as “sunburn of the eye” as the UV rays penetrate the corneas, leaving a painful, burning feeling, red eyes, and blurry vision. Photokeratitis can be caused by exposure to sunlight reflected from snow, ice, water, or sand, as well as staring at the sun directly.
Photoconjunctivitis is very similar to photokeratitis because they both involve harmful eye exposure to UV rays from the sun. Unlike photokeratitis, photoconjunctivitis affects the conjunctiva rather than the cornea. The conjunctiva is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the eyelids and front surface of the eye which provides protection and lubrication of the eyes through mucus and tears. When photoconjunctivitis is present, one may feel a sense of pain, redness, and the feeling of grit within the eyes.
Long Term Effects
Did you know that your eyes can GROW? Extended exposure to UV radiation from the sun can cause a crazy growth that starts from the conjunctiva and works its way to the cornea. It is a triangular flap that starts at the inner corner of the eye and extends to the center of the eye, looking white with visible blood vessels. Some symptoms of pterygium include dryness, watering, feeling of grit, inflammation and redness. Additionally, this growth is typically manageable from topical steroids, however, in some cases, surgery is required for removal.
Another long term effect of exposure to UV radiation is Pinguecula, which is a deposit of protein and fat on the conjunctiva. Pinguecula is very similar to pterygium, however, it does not grow onto the cornea. With pinguecula, it is common to see a raised bump that appears yellow on the white part of the eye as well as the feeling of a foreign body, such as grit, in the eye.
Macular degeneration is a serious long-term effect of exposure to UV radiation. This degeneration causes loss in the center of the field of vision. There are two types of macular degeneration: wet and dry. In wet macular degeneration, blood vessels that are leaky grow underneath the retina. In dry macular degeneration, the center of the retina deteriorates. Both of these cause the retina to deteriorate until the center field of vision becomes blurry.
One of the most serious long-term effects of exposure to UV radiation is Cataracts. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness throughout the world and 20% of cases are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation. Cataracts are these cloudy patches that show up on the eye lens, which is supposed to be completely clear. Symptoms of this disease may include reduced vision, blurry vision or spotty vision, which all worsen as cataracts progresses.
Cancer is one of the most, if not the most, serious effects of overexposure to UV radiation. Cancer can pop up in two ways when it comes to the eyes: eye cancer and cancer of the skin surrounding the eyes.
Cancer of the Skin Surrounding the Eyes
There are three different types of skin cancer that occur around the eyes: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Between these three types of cancer, around 5 to 10% of all skin cancer cases are found on the eyelids. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type and is usually noticeable through a small patch of nodule on the eyelid, along with eyelash loss and the eyelid pulling away from the eye. The second most common type is squamous cell carcinoma which is most noticeable from a flaky or scaly patch that has many blood vessels that are noticeable. It is also possible that this type is seen in the form of a tumor which often looks like a red and scaly wart which makes it look like an open sore. The final type is melanoma which is the most dangerous but often does not develop on the eyelids. It is most noticeable as a thick and pigmented patch that changes color, bleeds, and can grow, like a tumor.
The most common form of ocular cancer is melanoma, however, ocular cancer is very rare. Some symptoms include a dark spot appearing on the conjunctiva or iris, the size of the pupil changing, and the patient seeing flashing lights and distorted vision. Another ocular cancer is squamous cell carcinoma which can appear on the surface of the eye as a white or pink nodule.
What can I do to prevent UV damage?
Sunglasses are the way to go to halt dangerous UV rays from ruining your eyes. Use these helpful tips to find the right pair to protect your eyes:
- UV protection: It is important to buy either 99 or 100 UV protection lenses. Anything lower than 99 or 100 will not protect you properly from the sun. Additionally, if there is little or no information about the number of UV protection, it’s time to find a new pair of shades.
- Polarized: While polarization does not offer any additional benefits in UV protection, they can reduce glare by a considerable amount, so they could be very beneficial in areas where you would get a lot of sun, like out on the water.
- Color: Darker lenses don’t always translate to better protection. Utilization of color is actually just a preference! Whether you’re using green, rose, or brown lenses, you should research the different benefits of the color you’re using to get the most from your shades.
- Material: When looking at the material of the glasses, it is important to look for lenses that are durable and are distortion-free! When looking for distortion, it is important to look back and forth, from left to right, to make sure your glasses don’t distort the color or your vision.
- Frames: Frames are always better when they’re bigger! When looking for frames, try your best to find the perfect shades for you, while covering the most amount of your face as possible. The larger the frames, the less room that pesky sun will have to get at on your face and in your eyes.
Luckily, Fuse Lenses can be your partner in eye health! Keep those eyes and frames fresh with lenses made with optical-grade Polycarbonate material that offer 100% UV protection. We can make lenses for any brand in your sunglass arsenal. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about UV protection.