We people are aware about the fact that there is a connection between Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation and our skin. But we may not realize that there is a strong link in between UV rays and our eyes too. 

Sunlight, no doubt essential for everyone and everywhere. Sun emits different types of radiation. It’s life giving rays of light upgrades our physical as well as mental health in various ways.

However, too much exposure with mostly UV rays of light increases the risks of eye diseases and affects our vision. 

Before learning various effects or hazards of UV rays, I would like you to know about UV rays or radiation. 

What are UV rays? 

UV Radiation Stands for Ultraviolet Radiation, Ultraviolet rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation produced by the sun and some man-made sources like welding machines or bulbs. 

Sun emits visible light, heat and UV rays. UV rays are invisible to us through our naked eyes. The wavelength of UV rays is shorter than that of visible light but with much higher energy levels. 

Depending upon the frequency of the waves, UV is made up of 3 types of rays i.e. UV-A,UV-B and UV-C. 

  • UV-C is most harmful but it is not giving any potential damage to our eyes because it is absorbed by the ozone layer in the atmosphere. 
  • UV-B are partially filtered by the ozone layer and absorbed by the cornea which may cause corneal problems. 
  • UV-A rays can pass through the cornea and reach the lens as well as the retina, and can have serious issues in our eyes. 

As seen, Many people are not aware about the dangers of UV radiation exposure. 

What are the effects of UV rays in eyes?

Excessive exposure to the sun raises the risk of eye diseases and conditions significantly. This will affect vision as well as overall eye health status is compromised. Both short term and long term exposure affect our eyes. Various conditions or eye diseases associated with the exposure of UV rays are explained below. Let’s have a look. 

Photokeratitis 

Photokeratitis is a swelling or inflammation of the cornea(clear, transparent front portion of the eye). It is caused due to high short term exposure of UV rays specially UV-B rays and is a very painful condition and may cause temporary vision loss.

It is also known as Ultraviolet keratopathy or Snow blindness. 

Symptoms appear within 8-24 hours of exposure. Individuals can experience symptoms like redness, photophobia, excessive watering, gritty sensation, blurred vision and pain mostly.

Though it is a temporary condition, it does require treatment. Eye care professionals may prescribe artificial eye drops and antibiotics eye drop. Cold compression can also be done so as to feel comfortable. 

Photo-conjunctivitis 

It refers to inflammation of conjunctiva (membrane that lines the inside of eyelids) that is caused by exposure of UV radiation. 

It is a temporary and reversible condition. Though it causes some extent of discomfort, it didn’t affect vision. 

Pinguecula 

Pinguecula is a condition that results after exposure to Ultraviolet radiation. Whitish or yellowish bump or growth on the conjunctiva is seen. It is most commonly seen in those groups of people who reside in dusty, sunny regions. 

It falls under long term problems and if it appears red or swollen, eye drops are used to treat. UV radiation, dust & dirt, wind specially contribute to further development of this condition.

So people should strictly use protection glasses to prevent worsening of the condition. 

Pterygium or Surfer’s eye

Pterygium is commonly a pink, soft fleshy unwanted muscle growth in the conjunctiva. UV rays exposure is the main factor that contributes to the development of this condition. It is commonly seen in teens or twenties. 

It is usually painless and starts developing at the corner of the eye near the nose. If it is left untreated,it can grow across the cornea and may affect vision. And Surgery to be done to save vision. It also falls under long term problems. 

Cataracts 

Condition caused from long term exposure of UV rays is cataract. Cataract is clouding of the normal crystalline lens. It is a leading cause of blindness in the world. 

It is believed that Cataract is developed over time but there is evidence that those who have constant exposure to the sun for years will develop cataract more rapidly. 

Every year around 16 million people in the world suffer from blindness due to loss of transparency in the lens. WHO estimates that upto 20% of cataracts may be caused by overexposure to UV radiation.

Experts recommend wearing protective sunglasses while outdoors or whenever you are working in the field or somewhere else where there is direct exposure to UV light. More about Cataracts here

Macular degeneration 

It is a disease that leads to progressive loss of central vision. Constant long term exposure of UV rays mostly UV-A rays for years shows potential damage to the retinal tissues.Though this condition commonly progresses slowly but in some cases it can progress rapidly.  

Retina, a multilayered and center of which, macula is present. Macula is that area where we get central vision. In this condition the tissue composition within the macula begins to change which causes loss of central vision. 

There is evidence that most people of age 50 or older with macular degeneration have had more sun exposure in their life. 

Skin cancer around the eyes 

Due to long term exposure to UV radiation, skin cancer around the eyes mostly on the eyelids can be seen. 

If you get any moles, spots or any other lesions around your eyes, visit an eye doctor or dermatologist in time. 

Who is at risk? 

Everyone, either children or adults who are getting exposed are at risk. Any factor or activities performed under direct exposure of UV radiation from the Sun or from man made devices which produce UV radiation increases the risk of damage to the eyes.

You are at risk if you didn’t apply any protective measures during exposure. Some conditions that increase the risk are mentioned below: 

  •  Staying long hours outdoors for different purposes. Working at fields, swimming, spending time on the beach etc increases risk. 
  •  If you are a welder or medical technologist whose occupation requires exposure to artificial UV radiation. 
  • If you have already done cataract surgery or having any retinal diseases. 
  • Using medicines that increase the sensitivity to the sun . 
  • Frequently using man made devices that emits UV rays. 

How to protect eyes from UV Radiation? 

First of all, you need to know that UV rays can come from various directions. They are emitted by the sun and various man-made artificial devices. They can also reflect from water, snow or any other bright surfaces. 

We need to be aware about the dangerous effects of UV rays. So as to minimize the risk and protect eyes from exposure, following measures can be applied. 

  1. Best way to minimize this is by wearing protective sunglasses Or prescription eyeglasses and a wide brimmed hat while you are working outdoors or going outdoors. 

Some contact lenses also block UV rays. If you are a contact lens wearer then better go for UV protection one. 

Make sure you wear quality one because quality matters. That sunglass you wear should block  99 – 100% UV rays. 

  1. If you work outdoors for a long time, wrap around your frames so as to block rays. 
  1. Take care of your children because they mostly spend time outdoors. Educate your children or loved ones about the hazards of UV rays and ask them to wear protection glasses. 
  1. Make sure you go for comprehensive eye check up on a regular basis. 

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