Protect Your Eyes This Summer and All Year Round
After a cold and snowy winter that seemed like it would never end, it is finally summer! The warmer weather beckons us outside to go to the pool, work in the garden, take the kids to the park, and go on a hike or a bike ride. And while the sun is welcome, we need to protect ourselves and our children when we are outside. Most of us already know about the need for sunscreen to protect us from sunburn and skin cancer. But we also need to protect our eyes—not just in the summertime but throughout the year!
There are three kinds of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. The two commonly known are UVA and UVB rays. There are also UVC rays. They are the highest-energy UV rays and could be the most harmful to your eyes and skin. Our atmosphere’s ozone layer blocks most all UVC rays, but with the depletion of the ozone layer we need to consider the possibility that some of these UVC rays could reach the earth’s surface.
And then there is a lesser-known type of radiation from the sun: high-energy visible (HEV) or blue light. These HEV rays have longer wavelengths and lower energy than UV rays, but they penetrate deeply into the eye and can cause retinal damage.
So what happens when our eyes are repeatedly exposed to UV and HEV rays? Well, there are a number of bad outcomes for the unprotected eye. Vision loss from damaged eye tissue, known as macular degeneration is common in those over age 60. I have known several people with macular degeneration, and it is quite sad for them. Imagine giving up driving, watching TV, and reading. Rays from the sun contribute to clouding of the lens of the eye, or cataracts. The front surface of the eye can actually get a sunburn, called photokeratitis. And the sun can also cause a benign growth that covers the eye, called ptergium.
UV and HEV levels are higher in areas closer to the equator, at higher altitudes, from 10 am to 2 pm, and in wide open spaces. They are also higher when highly reflective surfaces are present, like snow, sand, and water. Cloud cover does not affect UV levels because since UV is invisible radiation, not visible light, it can penetrate clouds.
What is the best way to protect your vision? Wearing sunglasses when you are outside is essential. An inexpensive pair from the dollar store will not give you the protection you need—look for sunglasses that block 100% of UV rays and that also absorb most HEV rays. The amount of UV protection that sunglasses provide is not related to the color or darkness of the lenses. But as far as HEV protection, color DOES matter. Most sunglasses that block HEV rays will be bronze, copper, or reddish-brown. And don’t forget to wear a hat! A wide-brimmed hat can reduce your eyes’ exposure to UV and HEV rays by 50%!
Don’t forget your kids’ eyes! Damage from the sun is cumulative, that is, the danger continues to grow as time is spent in the sun throughout our lifetimes. Because children spend lots of time outdoors, up to half of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV radiation can occur by age 18. And children are more likely to have retinal damage from the sun because the lens inside a child’s eye is clearer than an adult lens, allowing more UV rays to penetrate deep into the eye.
Protect your valuable vision for a future with sight!
Blessings to you,