The importance of protecting your eyes this summer
As we move into the warmer months, we start to think more about how to protect ourselves from the harmful affects of UV radiation. We all know that too much sun exposure can lead to serious issues such as skin cancer, but did you know that too much UV light can also negatively affect the health of your eyes?
What is UV?
UV or Ultraviolet radiation is invisible energy produced by the sun. It’s made up of three wavelengths, UVA, UVB and UVC, all of which are known to adversely affect our health. The amount of UV radiation we are exposed to varies from season to season and throughout the day. In Australia, the danger period is usually between 10am and 3pm, these are the hours when damage to our eyes occurs the fastest. It is important to remember that UV radiation isn’t related to the sun’s light or heat, which we can see and feel. There can still be high levels of UV radiation on cool or cloudy days and because we don’t have the ability to sense UV radiation, damage can be done without us even noticing.
How does it affect the health of our eyes?
Repeated exposure to UV radiation has the ability to cause both short-term and long-term problems for our eyes and even the potential for permanent eye damage.
The most common short-term impact of UV exposure to the eye is a condition known as Photokeratitis or ‘snow blindness’. The condition causes inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva and is essentially like having a sunburned eye. Symptoms include a painful ‘gritty’ feeling in the eye and increased tear production. The good news is that photokeratitis usually goes away on its own and symptoms can be relieved by using a cool washcloth over the eyes, lubricating eye drops and over-the-counter pain relievers.
Numerous long-term eye problems have also been associated with overexposure to UV radiation. For example, exposure to UVA radiation has been linked to the development of certain types of cataracts, and the development of macular degeneration. While UVB radiation may contribute to conditions such as pterygium which is a benign growth on the surface of the cornea that can become unsightly and cause distorted vision.
How can we protect our eyes from sun damage?
The easiest way to protect our eyes from the dangers of UV radiation is simply to make sure we always wear sunglasses when going outside. However, it is also important that we choose the correct type of eyewear for our needs as not all sunglasses provide the same level of UV protection. In Australia, sunglasses and fashion spectacles are required by the Consumer Goods Safety Standard to be tested prior to sale. When purchasing sunglasses it’s a good idea to make sure they have a label that indicates they comply with these requirements.
The standard ranks sunglasses into categories from 0-4, according to the amount of UV radiation and visible light that is able to pass through the lens, with 0 offering very low UV protection and 4 offering very high glare and UV protection.
When choosing sunglasses, the Australian Cancer Council recommends wearing close-fitting, wraparound style sunglasses that meet the standards for categories 2, 3 and 4 as these sunglasses absorb 95% of light.
When to see a doctor
It is recommended that all Australians under the age of 65 have their eyes examined by a qualified optometrist at least once every two years. If you are aged over 65 or have other health conditions such as diabetes you should have your eyes examined more frequently (every 6-12 months). Regular visits will allow your eye health professional to monitor any changes and detect conditions such as cataract or macular degeneration early.
Of course, if you notice any sudden changes to your vision such as blurring, flashing lights or pain, you should speak with you doctor or optometrist as soon as possible. Early detection is key to preventing vision loss and blindness.
If you are concerned about the effect sun exposure is having on the health of your eyes and would like to make an appointment to speak with Dr Bassili, please call our clinic on 94595133