Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is an invisible component of sunlight that is most commonly known to cause sunburns and skin cancers. While some UV is filtered by the ozone layer, increasing amounts are reaching the earth as the ozone layer steadily diminishes. Because exposure to UV is cumulative, direct contact with sunlight for even short periods of time can cause several long-term eye health problems, many of which begin symptom-free.
To help reduce UV radiation damage to your eyes, consider the following tips:
- Beware of high sources of UV exposure in the workplace. The Canadian Center for Occupational Health & Safety indicates examples of workers at potential risk from exposure to UV radiation including outdoor workers, construction workers, paint and resin curers, plasma torch operators, welders, farmers, food and drink irradiators, hairdressers, laboratory workers, lighting technicians, lithographic and printing workers and police.
- Recognize sources of man-made ultraviolet radiation. Examples include various types of UV lamps, arc welding torches and mercury vapour lamps. In dental and medical practices, UV radiation can be used for killing bacteria, creating fluorescent effects, curing resins and phototherapy. Sun tanning booths also use UV radiation.
- Wear sunglasses, prescription or safety glasses with anti-UV coatings. Sunlight is by far the greatest source of UV radiation.
Exposure to its UVA and UVB rays, as well as man-made sources of UVC rays, can lead to long-term eye damage including:
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Eyelid skin cancer
- Premature age spots around the eyes
- Tissue growths on the surface of the eye including pinguecula and pterygium, of which the latter can encroach on the corneal axis
- If you wear corrective contact lenses, consider wearing UV-blocking contact lenses for an added layer of UV protection. Sunglasses are important, but aren’t always enough. Depending on the frame size, shape and position, as much as 45 per cent of UV rays can still reach the eyes of people wearing some sunglasses. Contact lenses with UV protection are an effective way to block light that gets in the sides and protects from harmful UV radiation reaching the cornea and into the eye. Not all contact lenses offer UV protection so check with your doctor of optometry to find out which ones are right for you.
- Recognize symptoms of UV eye damage, including immediate pain, inflammation of the cornea and an aversion to light. UV burns are commonly known as welder’s flash, snow blindness, ground-glass eyeball, or flash burn, depending on the UV source. Should you experience these symptoms, see your doctor of optometry right away.
While the symptoms listed above indicate eye damage caused by UV exposure, many long-term problems caused by UV exposure are symptom-free. To learn about the UV damage your eyes may already have, visit your doctor of optometry for a thorough eye examination.