Protecting Your Eyes from Ultraviolet Light

Think your warm-weather attire should only consist of shorts and a T-shirt? Think again! If you value your eyesight, one or more pairs of quality sunglasses are a wardrobe essential that should not be overlooked.

Just as the sun can damage the structure of your skin, so can it impact the health of your eyes over time. Although UV and blue wavelengths are present all year round, they are considerably stronger during the summer months, which is why it is important to wear sunglasses any time you are outdoors or driving.

The lens of the eye is composed of protein and water. The protein molecules are bonded together in a precise and orderly way, which results in clarity and transparency of the lens. When ultraviolet (UV) and blue light penetrate the lens of the eye, they cause damaging free radicals to be released in the protein of the lens.

These highly unstable molecules disrupt the protein structures, causing them to clump together. This clumping causes cloudiness that disturbs the passage of light through the lens—the condition known as a cataract. Significantly, areas of the world that have the most sunshine also have a higher incidence of cataracts.

Researchers also believe that when UV and blue light penetrate the eye and reach the macula—a small region in the centre of the retina that allows us to see in fine detail—the resulting release of free radicals contributes to the development of macular degeneration. This eye condition can lead to severe impairment of vision, and sometimes blindness.

Assessing your risk for sun-related eye damage

While everyone is at risk for eye disorders caused by exposure to UV radiation, certain people are more at risk. If you fall into one of the categories below, your risk factors are increased and you should make sure your eyes are protected at all times.

  • People taking birth control pills or antibiotics
  • Children and seniors
  • Contact lens wearers
  • Outdoor enthusiasts
  • Refractive/cataract surgery patients
  • People with light-coloured eyes and/or sensitivity to light
  • People living at higher altitudes or close to the Equator
  • People who regularly experience high glare conditions such as when commuting on bright or sunny days

Protection for the little ones

Excessive exposure to sunlight during early childhood can be harmful to the eyes. Children’s developing eyes allow more UV rays to penetrate than the eyes of adults and, since children spend a lot of time outdoors, their exposure to sunlight is greater.

The earlier your little one gets used to wearing sun protection, the better. Although the consequences of childhood UV light exposure usually do not surface until well into adulthood, the risk for retinal damage from the sun’s rays is greatest in children under the age of 10. To help protect your child’s precious eyesight, make sure he or she wears sunglasses, especially between 10 am and 4 pm, when UV exposure is strongest.

This applies to children with light or dark-coloured eyes. While darker eye pigmentation does, to a degree, protect the eyes from UV radiation, the damaging rays can still penetrate to the retina.

Read other articles in our Spring-Summer 2020 volume of our Bettercare magazine here.

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