Dr. Richard Zobel's Blog

Protecting Your Eyes from Solar Radiation

June 26th, 2012 • Posted by Sierra Evans • Permalink

The sun supports all life on our planet, but its life-giving rays also pose danger. The sun's primary danger is in the form of Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is a component of solar radiation, but it can also be given off by artificial sources like welding machines, tanning beds and lasers. Most are aware of the harm UV radiation can do to the skin, but many may not realize that exposure to UV radiation can harm the eyes or that other components of solar radiation can also affect vision. There are three types of UV radiation: UV-C is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not present any threat; UV-A and UV-B radiation can have adverse long and short-term effects on the eyes and vision. If your eyes are exposed to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time, you are likely to experience an effect called photokeratitis. Like a "sunburn of the eye", photokeratitis may be painful and include symptoms such as red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing. Fortunately, this is usually temporary and rarely causes permanent damage to the eyes. Long-term exposure to UV radiation, however, can be more serious. Scientific studies and research have shown that exposure to small amounts of UV radiation over a period of many years increases the chance of developing a cataract and may cause damage to the retina, a nerve-rich lining of the eye that is used for seeing. Additionally, chronic exposure to shorter wavelength visible light may be also harmful. The longer the eyes are exposed to solar radiation, the greater the risk of developing later in life such conditions as cataracts or macular degeneration. Since it is not clear how much exposure will cause damage, the AOA recommends wearing quality sunglasses that offer UV protection and wearing a hat or cap with a wide brim whenever you spend time outdoors.

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