We’ve all heard about the damage sun can do to our skin. But what about our vision? It’s just as vital that we protect our eyes from the dangers of too much ultraviolet (UV) exposure.
Our bodies have the ability to repair and replace damaged cells. The lens of the eye, though, is an exception and is never replaced. Because of this, symptoms like cataracts can occur as a result of gradually accumulating damage to the proteins of the lens. And this damage is commonly caused by UV radiation.
Excessive exposure to UV rays in your early childhood is particularly harmful to your eyes, possibly only showing up later in life. UV can also play a role in the development of age related macular degeneration – when the eye's macular (the centre of the retina) deteriorates. Over exposure to the sun can also lead to skin cancer (also known as melanoma) on the eyelids.
How to protect your eyes from UV
• The best way to protect your eyes against UV damage is to use a UV filter that will stop most of the harmful rays entering your eyes. Glasses and contact lenses can have built in UV protection.
• All ACUVUE® Brand Contact Lenses have UV blocking filters* embedded into the lens material, which will help protect you throughout the year, not just on the sunny summer days.
• Sunglasses alone will not block all UV rays, as sunlight can still reach the eyes through the sides of the sunglasses. The use of a UV blocking contact lens will give you additional protection.
• Not all sunglasses will have the same level of protection. An effective pair of sunglasses should be able to block out both UVA and UVB rays. While all sunglasses block out UVB radiation, a good pair should also be measured to block out 99% to 100% of UVA rays.
• Pick large lenses that fit close to the eyes. To prevent sunlight reaching through the sides of the sunglasses, use wrap around style glasses.
• Expensive designer sunglasses or polarizing lenses are not necessarily guaranteed to be effective against the harmful rays of the sun.
• Ordinary sunglasses – the kind without certified UVA/UVB protection – can cause more damage to the eyes than not. This is because the dark lenses cause the pupils of the eyes to dilate, letting in more UVA rays that will damage the retina and lens of the eyes.
• Even children need to protect their eyes. Like your skin, most of the sun damage to your eyes is accrued in a person’s early developmental years. So sun protection is vital for young people.
• Sunlight is at its most intense between the hours of 10 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon, which means that ultraviolet exposure to the skin is most dangerous then. However, recent research shows that the eyes are most at risk during mid-morning and the late afternoon so make sure your eyes are well protected all day.
• Reflected light can cause eye burn. At high altitudes, snow-covered mountains, sandy beaches and reflective bodies of water like lakes, rivers and the sea, sun exposure is at its most intense
• Good nutrition can also help protect your eyes. Lutein which is found in foods such as kale, spinach, broccoli and many yellow or orange fruits and vegetables works as an antioxidant for the protection of cells. It helps prevent harmful blue light from reaching – and thus causing damage – to the sensitive back tissue of the retina. Lutein can thus help support the protection offered by UV blocking contact lenses and spectacles.
*UV-absorbing contact lenses are not substitutes for UV-blocking sunglasses as they do not completely cover the eye and surrounding area.