It’s the dog days of summer! If it’s not hot enough for you in July, it never will be. July is National UV Safety Awareness Month. With more than 14 hours of sunlight each day, it’s a great opportunity to learn why you need to protect your eyes from the sun—and more specifically, from the sun’s damaging UV rays.
What are UV rays?
According to the American Cancer Society, “Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun and man-made sources like tanning beds and welding torches.”
Notice we quoted the American Cancer Society for that definition. Why? Because one of the long-term results of accumulated sun exposure is a higher risk of developing cancer of the skin and the eyes.
There are three types of UV rays:
UV-C rays: These rays have more potentially damaging energy than UV-A or UV-B rays. Fortunately, that excess energy makes them react with ozone in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, where they are absorbed. They don’t typically reach Earth’s surface.
UV-B rays: These are the sunburn rays and the culprit behind skin cancer. With more energy than UV-A rays but less energy than UV-C, these rays can cause DNA damage to human cells.
UV-A rays: These are the wrinkle rays. They have the lowest energy of the three types of UV rays, but they can cause indirect damage to the DNA of your cells. UV-A rays are the main cause of photo-aging of the skin and are a factor in developing skin cancer.
UV and Your Eyes
The sun’s intense UV rays are present in Earth’s atmosphere 365 days a year. And yes, they are much stronger in the spring and summertime because the sun reaches its highest angle in those months.
It’s very common for family members and friends to remind each other to apply sunscreen to their skin when they go outside. Think about it: You wouldn’t let your toddler child or grandchild go outside in the sun without a coating of sunscreen. And if you saw that your brother’s shoulders were getting pink on a beach trip, you’d offer him some sunscreen. But have you ever watched those same loved ones go out in the sun without proper eye protection to protect them from eye damage caused by UV rays?
While you may opt to wear sunglasses more often in the spring and summer months, we encourage you to wear them 12 months of the year, whenever you’re going outside. Eye damage from UV rays is cumulative, meaning the UV your eyes absorbed 10 years ago when you lost your sunglasses on a beach vacation can be a factor in your eye health today.
But there’s an easy solution: Wear your sunglasses when you go outside. Every time. When you walk the dog, check the mail, or walk from the parking lot to work. Even while driving. And remind your friends and loved ones to wear their sunglasses to help them protect their precious eye health.
4 Common Sun-Related Eye Conditions
Sunburn is a familiar result of too much UV ray exposure for most of us. If you’ve never experienced the pain and burning of a sunburn, you are fortunate indeed. Though you’ve likely experienced sunburned skin, what about sunburned eyes? It’s a condition called photokeratitis, and similar to a sunburn of the skin, it’s uncomfortable. Symptoms include watery eyes, red or itchy eyes, and light sensitivity. Wear sunglasses to avoid this painful situation.
In a condition called “Surfer’s Eye,” pterygium is a fleshy tissue growth that originates on the conjunctiva (whites of the eye) and can grow onto the cornea, which impacts and distorts vision. Pterygium can be removed with surgery, but the growth often returns after its removal.
A cataract is the clouding of the natural lens of the eye. When the lens clouds and becomes thick, it is difficult to see through it—sort of like a smeared, dirty car windshield limits your visibility. Though cataracts develop with age, accumulated lifelong sun exposure can hasten the condition and cause it to develop at a younger age. Cataracts require surgical treatment.
The eye’s macula is a tiny but mighty area in the back of your eye. Just 5mm in size (slightly more than 3/16 inch), the macula drives your central, detailed vision that allows you to read, recognize faces, perform up-close work, and view screens. When the macula begins to break down, it’s called macular degeneration— a slow, progressive, degenerative disease. It may start with blurred vision, but can progress into a total loss of central vision. It can be a devastating disease when it progresses that far, and it can’t be repaired with surgery. Protecting your eyes from UV rays can help to lower your risk of developing macular degeneration.
This summer, start a healthy trend in your family and friend group and encourage each other to wear high-quality, UV-blocking sunglasses every time you go outside. Your long-term vision and eye health are at stake. And only you hold the power to protect yourself.
If you need a new pair of high-quality sunglasses, our optical team will be happy to assist you in finding a pair that both looks great and protects your eyes from the harmful rays of the sun. We look forward to seeing you in our offices soon. Call us today!