Everyone is regularly exposed to UV rays. However, the potential risks related to many years of exposure to these harsh rays are rarely considered, to a point where most people barely take enough action to protect their eyes, even if they're expecting to be outside for many hours. Being exposed to too much UV is dangerous and irreversible, and can also cause more than a few severe, sight-stealing diseases in older age. And so, continuing protection from UV rays is extremely important.
There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB, both of which are unsafe. Even though only tiny amounts of UVA and UVB light enter the inner eye, the ocular cells are extremely receptive to the dangerous effects of their rays. Even in the short term, small amounts of exposure can easily lead to sunburn of the eye, often referred to as photokeratitis. When the cornea receives UVB rays, the cells that make up its exterior are significantly damaged, which can lead to pain, blurred vision or temporary blindness. UVA rays can permeate the eye much deeper, causing harm to the retina. Of the 20 million people suffering from cataracts, about 20 percent are caused by extended exposure to UV rays.
An ideal way to guard your eyes from UV rays is by wearing quality sunglasses. Be sure that your sunglasses or prescription eyewear block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. An unsatisfactory pair of sunglasses can be more harmful than using no sun protection at all. Consider this: when sunglasses don't offer any protection against UV, you are actually increasing your exposure to UV rays. Sunglasses that are inadequate tend to block some of the light, which causes the iris to open and let even more light in. This means that more UV will be hitting the retina. Always be sure that your sunglasses provide effective protection against UV.
A broad brimmed sunhat or baseball cap will also protect you from about half of UV rays. A brimmed hat or cap may also reduce UV rays that reach your eyes from above or around glasses.
Extended exposure to UV rays can also cause an abnormal tissue growth on the eye, which is called pterygium. This is a thin, wedge-shaped tissue growth with blood vessels that grow over the white part on the surface of the eye. In addition to being aesthetically unsightly, a pterygium can irritate the eye, and can even change the shape of the eyeball, causing astigmatism. If the pterygium begins to grow over the cornea, it can damage vision and may need to be surgically removed. Because pterygia are caused by long-term UV exposure and windy conditions, it's totally avoidable.
Make an appointment to speak with your eye care professional about all of your UV protection options, which include fixed tint sunglasses, adaptive lenses and polarized lenses.