President of the Optician’s Association of Trinidad & Tobago
What is UV Radiation?
By definition, UV radiation is a form of electromagnetic energy. It can come from both natural sources, such as sunlight, as well as artificial sources, such as lasers and fluorescent, incandescent or tanning bulbs.
There are three types of UV light, however the two of which are concerning to our eyes are:
• UVA: This type has the longest wavelength. It harms your central vision, damaging the macula, or central part of the retina, at the back of your eye.
• UVB: UVB rays can affect the front of your eye, like your cornea and lens, causing damage to these clear, surface parts of your eye.
Prolonged exposure to these UV rays can lead to a few eye issues such as:
• Cataracts: Sun damage from UVB that harms your lens can damage the proteins in this clear structure. Over time, damaged proteins may clump together, causing dark spots, cloudy areas, or white clumps.
These are cataracts.
• Corneal Sunburn \ Photokeratitis: this is an inflammation of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye). This condition is usually temporary, however extremely painful. This condition usually clears up on its own within a few days. The severity would depend on the length of exposure to the UV radiation.
• Age Related Macular Degeneration: The macula is the central part of the retina, and if this area is damaged, your central vision will degrade. This disease is more common in patients who are 50 years and older.
• Pterygium: A Pterygium is a raised growth on your eye’s conjunctiva (the clear, mucous membrane lining the front of the eyes and the eyelids). Constant exposure to UV light is a major cause. If the pterygium grows across the cornea, your vision may be impacted or blurred, and a minor procedure is done to remove it.
What can we do to limit the amount of UV entering the eyes?
• Polarized or UV protected sunglasses: Polarized lenses have a filter that blocks the reflection of light at certain angles from surfaces, such as the windscreen of a vehicle or any wet or shiny surface. This light is also known as glare and can cause eye fatigue, headaches, and other forms of visual discomfort. “Wrap around” sunglasses also offer protection from glare entering through the temporal sides of the frames. Tinted 100% UV sunglasses can also be used. Although these may not reduce the effects of reflected glare, they will shield the eyes from the UV rays.
• Transitions Lenses: These are photochromic lenses which change from clear to dark depending on the amount of UV radiation in the atmosphere. Transition lenses have a built in UV filter which blocks out 100% of UVA & UVB radiation. They also filter out some of the harmful blue light. Blue light radiation can come from both the sun and from digital screens.
• Wear a hat or use an umbrella along with your sunglasses: This can help reduce the amount of direct sunlight entering the eyes. A broad brimmed hat offers a significant amount of protection.
It is always advisable to consult with your Eye Care Professional for the best options to mitigate the effects of UV radiation on the eyes. Regular checkups will determine the health of the eyes and any complications can be caught and attended to in a timely manner.