For years, we have been aware of the damage that Ultraviolet (UV) light can cause to our skin. In fact, thanks to the UV Index developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Weather Service (NWS), more Americans are taking steps to protect themselves from UV rays than ever. But did you know that your eyes need protection from the sun’s UV radiation, as well?

What kind of damage can UV light cause?

Most of us are familiar with UV light, the powerful rays of energy the sun emits. Overexposure to this solar radiation can cause a variety of conditions to our eyes, including:

  • Clouding of the eye’s natural lens (Cataracts)
  • Deterioration of the sharpness of your vision (Macular degeneration)
  • A yellowish thickening of the clear membrane of the eye (Pinguecula)
  • An elevated bump on the eyeball (Pterygia)
  • Sunburn of the cornea (Photokeratitis)

What can we do to protect our eyes?

Simply put, the best way to protect your eyes is to wear sunglasses. You will want to find sunglasses that block 100 percent of UV rays and, if you need help, your optometrist can assist you in selection. You will also want to find sunglasses that have a close fit and a wrap-around style frame. This protects your eyes from light that reaches your periphery.

Once you have found the perfect, high quality sunglasses, make sure to wear them whenever you are outdoors, even if it is cloudy. The sun’s UV rays can still reach your skin and eyes on cloudy days, so your best bet is to always be prepared.

Don’t forget about kids!

It may come as a surprise that children need even more protection from harmful UV light than adults do. Kids spend way more time outside than most adults, which puts them at higher risk of exposure. Some experts even suggest that half of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV radiation occurs by age 18. Children are also more susceptible to retinal damage because the lens inside their eye is much clearer than the lens in an adult’s eye, allowing more UV light to penetrate.

With this in mind, it is so important that you encourage the use of sunglasses in your children, even from an extremely young age. By modeling this, as well, you are promoting lifelong habits.

When am I most at risk?

Your level of risk depends on a few factors, but your location plays a big role. If you live in a tropical area near the equator, your risk for UV damage is much higher than if you live further north or south. The amount of time you spend outside makes a difference, as well, especially between the hours of 10am-2pm, when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest.

Still have questions about the effects of UV light on your eyes? Contact NewView Eye Center in Reston, VA for more information. NewView also serves the greater Washington DC area.