Sunglasses and UV: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Forget your sunglasses – no big deal, right? 

Think again. 

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a known culprit for painful sunburns and melanoma, yet few adults associate it with serious vision problems. But unprotected exposure to UV rays can have very serious eye consequences – especially over the lifetime. We'll talk about the benefits of wearing sunglasses every day and what can happen if you don't.

The Good: 
Sunglasses Reduces UV-related eye damage: UV-protective sunglasses block dangerous UV rays from reaching the eye. A host of vision problems can occur from UV exposure, so limiting eyes’ vulnerability to the sun can mean healthy eyes and vision well into adulthood. 

Protects eyes and eyelids: Wrap-around sunglasses provide extra protection to shield both the eyes and the skin near the eyes from sunburns. For little ones, sunglasses can prevent accidents with sunscreen getting in the eyes. 

Prevent squinting: Without sunglasses, we squint due to the intensity of the sun. For the beauty conscious, frequent squinting can result in wrinkles around the eye, including crow’s feet. Squinting can also increase a person’s propensity to develop headaches because eye muscles become fatigued. 

Enhances visual performance: There are specific lens options, tints and colors that are best for outdoor activities. Finding a pair of sunglasses optimized for your specific needs and lifestyle can make life easier. 

The Bad: 
Sunburn of the eyes (Photokeratitis): Unprotected exposure to UV can actually sunburn the eyes, specifically the cornea. For those who experience this condition, it is extremely painful and can cause temporary blindness. Known as “snow blindness”, “welder’s eye”, or “flash burns”, photokeratitis is not permanent and is easily preventable through the use of UV protective eyewear. 

Surfer’s eye (Pterygium): Cumulative UV exposure can result in a non-cancerous, growth of pink, fleshy tissue on the white of the eye. Growths typically appear in the corner of the eye nearest to the nose. While not painful, pterygium can be a nuisance and may lead to vision impairment. Surgical removal is an option, however the growths may reappear. 

The Ugly: 
Cataracts: This condition causes progressive clouding of the lens inside the eye. While cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in adults 40 and older, the issue is also the most treatable. While some cataracts occur naturally due to normal aging, their development and growth has also been attributed to longterm UV exposure. UVB rays, which contribute to the changes in lens of the eye, are considered especially damaging. 

Age-related macular degeneration: Loss of vision is a frightening prospect, with many older adults facing issue as they age. While age is a major determinant, studies suggest that UV exposure has been linked to age-related muscular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in adults 60 and older. This eye disease is characterized by cell deterioration in the macula – an overtly yellow spot near the center of the eye’s retina. There is currently no cure for AMD, but can be managed when properly diagnosed and treated.

Cancer of the eye and on the eyelid: High amounts of UV exposure can also increase the risk of cancer in the eye and skin surrounding the eye. Intraocular cancer is rare but dangerous; nearly 3,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States annually. And the skin around the eye is susceptible to malignant growths. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, 10 percent of all skin cancers are found on the eyelid. Individuals with light skin and eyes (blue and green) are at an increased risk of developing cancers in or near the eye. 

*This information brought to you by the Vision Council.

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