As the warm weather picks up, it is getting more and more common to see people outside enjoying the sun and participating in more outdoor activities, and while re-discovering all the fun things to do outside is great after the long winters, it is important to keep sun-safety in mind as you do so. UV rays cause sunburns and tans, but also have a huge impact on eye health, and exposure today can lead to serious and long-term optical issues down the line.
UV rays are invisible rays of radiation that typically come from the sun but can also be found in tanning beds and some forms of lighting (Mercury vapor, Halogen, Florescent and incandescent lighting), as well as some lasers. These waves are measured in nanometers, which are equal to one billionth of a meter, and are classified into 3 different groups based on their wavelengths. The classifications are as follows:
UVC: These rays are below 280 nm. The upper atmosphere absorbs these, so they do not reach us, therefore protection from these rays is not overly necessary.
UVB: These are between 280 – 3815 nm. These manage to make it to the earth’s surface and are notorious for damaging sight. They can cause snow blindness but are notably responsible for sunburn and several types of skin cancer. Research has shown that these rays are strongest during the summer and at higher altitudes.
UVA: These are the most dangerous being 315 – 380 nm and make up about 95% of the UV radiation that reaches us. They are known for causing chronic eye damage. Studies have indicated that these rays get absorbed by the lenses of our eyes leading to damage of the retina. They contribute to the occurrence of cataracts, are also a major cause of aging and unfortunately can pass through clouds, glass, water and clothing.
Unfortunately, exposure to these rays has been linked to a lot of optical issues. An immediate issue that can arise from this exposure is corneal sunburn, a painful and potentially vision impairing problem that is cause by sun burning your cornea. If untreated, this can lead to infections and permanent eye damage.
More long-term issues include the formation of cataracts, macular degeneration, eye cancers such as melanoma, and skin cancer. Cataracts have been directly linked to UVB rays can lead to total blindness. While cataracts typically occur in older patients, repeated and prolonged exposure to these UVB rays can increase your risk. Additionally, exposure can lead to skin cancer around the eye, and can even lead to macular degeneration and retina damage leading to impaired vision and significant vision loss.
How do I protect myself, and my family?
It is important to still go outside and enjoy the weather. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 5 to 15mins of sun exposure, 2 to 3 times a week in order to help the body produce vitamin D, an essential vitamin for absorbing calcium and assisting in bone development. However, there are easy ways to protect yourself and your family from the harmful UV rays, and the best way to do this is for everyone to wear sunglasses, children included. For sunglasses to effectively protect you from these rays, they should block out 99%-100% of the UVA and UVB rays, and screen out 75%-90% of all visible light. It is also recommended that wide brimmed hats also be worn outside by all.
UV rays can effect you even on cloudy days, so be sure to put on those sunglasses and hats whenever you go outdoors, so you can enjoy the weather and your favorite summer activities, without having to worry about those pesky UV rays!
When we are caught up in the delights of summer, we tend to overlook the simple proactive measures that we can take to protect against vision loss and UV related eye damage and even life-threatening ocular cancers. In addition to taking a few extra moments to protect yourself and your loved ones before rushing out into the sunshine, it is imperative that people take the time for annual eye exams. An optomap screening is an excellent, expedient way to get a comprehensive view of the retina and to gain essential information about one’s ocular health. optomap is the only proven, clinically-validated, ultra-widefield retinal image that can capture 82% or 200⁰ of the retina, which can reveal incredibly subtle changes from the central pole to the far periphery of the retina in a single capture – and in a fraction of a second – so you can get out there (well-protected, of course) and enjoy that summer sun.