With the arrival of Spring, many of us will be increasing the amount of time we spend outdoors. This in turn equates to more exposure to the sun. We are all aware of the damaging effects sunlight has on our skin, but what about our eyes? Should we be concerned with how much sunlight our eyes are exposed to? The answer is yes.
The sun emits invisible, high energy rays called ultraviolet radiation. This ultraviolet radiation (or UV radiation) serves no visual purpose and provides no benefit to the eyes. Since it may take years for UV light to actually damage the eye, it is difficult to prove a direct cause and effect link between UV light and eye diseases. However, animal studies and other population bases analyses have strongly implicated UV light in the development of specific eye diseases.
The most documented problem resulting from UV exposure is skin cancer which can occur on the skin surrounding the eyes and on the eyelid. In addition, cancerous lesions can also develop on the external surface of the eye itself.
One specific lesion known to result from exposure to UV radiation is called a Pterygium. These lesions grow onto the cornea which is the clear, dome-shaped, window-like structure through which light must pass when entering the eye. As a pterygium grows over the surface of the cornea it can affect vision by distorting the shape of the cornea and also blocking light from entering the eye.
Numerous studies have shown that exposure to UV light may also cause cataracts. Cataracts occur when proteins in the natural lens of the eye change causing cloudiness of the lens. This cloudiness results in decreased vision. Cataracts are a leading cause of vision loss worldwide.
Researchers have also speculated that chronic exposure to UV radiation may contribute to the development of age-related macular degeneration. Again, this has not been proven definitively, but evidence does exist suggesting a strong link.
Regardless of age, sex or race, everyone is at risk for eye damage from exposure to UV light. We should all be taking precautions to minimize our UV exposure, and it is never too early or too late to initiate preventative measures. When outside for extended periods of time, UV blocking sunglasses or UV blocking prescription glasses should be worn. Wide brimmed hats can also limit sun exposure. For those who have had cataract surgery, the lens implant now in your eye should have UV blocking properties.
Washington County is a beautiful place with countless outdoor activities to enjoy. Get out and enjoy this wonderful place we live in, just don’t forget to protect your eyes.
Jason W. Hendrix, M.D. is a local Eye Physician and Surgeon who specializes in cataract surgery and diseases of the eye including the treatment of age-related macular degeneration. He is located at the Saint George Eye Center, 676 South Bluff Street, Suite 208, Saint George, Utah. Contact him at 435-628-4507 or visit www.stgec.com.