Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) and your Eyes

  • Welcome to the “Valley of the Sun,” boasting about 315 days of sunshine per year.
  • The sun product market is over a $5 billion industry, but damage to skin cells still occurs even with careful tanning.  What about the affect on our eyes, the most precious of our five senses?  Market research has shown that close to 90% of consumers are aware that ultraviolet radiation (UVR) can damage our skin, but less than 10% know that it can damage our eyes as well.  Nine out of ten admit to using sunglasses sporadically, and one in four never uses sunglasses at all.
  • UVR is broken into three groups:
    • UV-C, most of which is absorbed in the atmosphere;
    • UV-B, associated with sunburn, cell damage, and cataracts, and;
    • UV-A, associated with aging of the skin and increasing the ocular damaging (cataracts) affects of UV-B.
  • Damage to the eyes can be immediate, such as with “photokeratitis” a painful but reversible “sunburn” of the eyes, or cumulative, such as with cataracts.
    • “Pterygium,” a cosmetically unappealing growth on the clear front part of the eye (“cornea”) is 100% due to long-term UVR exposure.
    • About 1/3 of cataracts are attributed to long-term UVR exposure.
    • UVR may also contribute to retinal disorders and diseases, such as Macular Degeneration.
  • About 80% of the UVR we are exposed to in our lifetime occurs by 18 years of age.
    • Protecting our children’s eyes is critical.  Sunglasses by themselves may not be sufficient, since it is estimated that about 50% of the UVR still gets to our eyes (from the sides, above, or reflecting off the back surface of sunglasses).  As a matter of fact, one of the more common facial sites of Basal Cell Carcinoma is the side of the upper part of the nose, where it is believed that long-term UVR coming from our side contributes to cell damage in this sensitive part of our face.
    • We all know about the “peak UV” mid-day hours.  A recent study out of Japan has shown that damage to the eyes may be just as high in the early morning and late afternoon hours, when the angle of the sun is more directly facing our eyes.  In Arizona, these are often the milder times of the day that we engage in outdoor activities.
  • Optimal UVR protection for our eyes involves quality sunglasses (with 99-100% UV blocking), a hat with a brim, and for those people who wear them, a “UV-blocking” contact lens.
    • Most contact lenses naturally block about 10% of the UVR.  There are now contact lenses that block between 90-100% of UVR.
    • The “Acuvue ‘Oasys’” is, to date, the only lens that has earned a UV-blocking designation (“Class 1”) that is equivalent to sunglasses.
    • This extra protection can complement the protection provided by quality sunglasses and a hat.

When it comes to Ultraviolet Radiation protection for our eyes, an ounce of prevention can be worth a lifetime of healthy eyes.