An Eye Opener: Overexposure to UV Rays Can Lead to Eye Diseases

Dr. Jeff Sanger and Dr. Melinda Kennel encourage simple eye care precautions during sun exposure.

With summer right around the corner, more people will be spending time outdoors and UV protection will be top of mind. Unfortunately, most people think about the protection of their skin, when they should also be considering the safety of their eyes. In fact, according to the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) American Eye-Q® survey, only one-third of Americans said UV protection is the most important factor they consider when purchasing sunglasses. Whether it’s cloudy or sunny, summer or winter, the AOA urges Americans to take measures to protect their eyes from the sun’s UV rays in order to decrease the risk of eye diseases and disorders.

“Overexposure to UV rays is quite serious and can lead to cataracts, macular degeneration, or, in some cases, skin cancer around the eyelids,” said Sarah Hinkley, O.D., the AOA’s UV protection expert. “Other disorders that can occur are abnormal growths on the eye’s surface and even sunburn of the eyes. These conditions can cause blurred vision, irritation, redness, tearing, temporary vision loss and, in some instances, blindness.”

Even more concerning is the lack of awareness surrounding the potential effects of overexposure to UV radiation. According to the American Eye-Q® survey, 35 percent of adults are unaware of the eye health risks associated with spending too much time in the sun without the proper protection.

The following top five tips from the American Optometric Association may help prevent eye and vision damage from overexposure to UV radiation:

  1. Wear protective eyewear any time the eyes are exposed to UV rays, even on cloudy days and during the winter.
  2. Look for quality sunglasses or contact lenses that offer good protection. Sunglasses or protective contact lenses should block 99 to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B radiation and screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.
  3. Check to make sure sunglass lenses are perfectly matched in color and free of distortions or imperfections.
  4. Purchase gray-colored lenses because they reduce light intensity without altering the color of objects to provide the most natural color vision. Brown or amber-colored lenses may be better for those who are visually impaired because they increase contrast as well as reducing light intensity.
  5. Don’t forget protection for young children and teenagers, who typically spend more time in the sun than adults and are at a greater risk for damage.

Children need protection too. “The lenses of children’s eyes are more transparent than those of adults allowing shorter wavelength light to reach the retina,” said Dr. Hinkley. “Because the effects of solar radiation are cumulative, it’s important to develop good protection habits early, such as purchasing proper sunglasses for young children and teenagers.”

According to the AOA, parents should purchase sunglasses for all children, including infants. The American Eye-Q® survey found 66 percent of Americans purchase sunglasses for their children, but more than one in four parents do not check to make sure the lenses have proper UV protection. Additionally, less than one third (29 percent) of parents make sure their child wears sunglasses while outdoors.

More information on UV protection
Additional information from the AOA’s 2009 American Eye-Q® survey, which identified Americans’ attitudes and behaviors regarding eye care and related issues, includes the following statistics:

  • While just over one-third (33 percent) of Americans said UV protection was the most important factor when purchasing sunglasses; the other factors respondents said were important included comfort/fit (26 percent), price (18 percent), style (15 percent) or lens color (3 percent).

  • 73 percent of survey respondents have worn lenses (contacts lenses or eyeglasses) that provide UV protection.

  • 38 percent of respondents wear prescription sunglasses.

  • 42 percent of respondents do not wear sunglasses during the winter months

  • 66 percent of parents do not make sure their children wear sunglasses during winter months.

A good way to monitor eye health, maintain good vision, and keep up-to-date on the latest in UV protection is by scheduling periodic comprehensive eye exams with an eye doctor. The AOA recommends adults age 60 and under have a comprehensive eye exam every two years and then annually thereafter. Based on an individual’s eye health, the optometrist may recommend more frequent visits.

For additional information on UV protection, please visit: or contact Prairie EyeCare Center (308)872-2291.

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