You know that sun exposure is bad for your skin. You check the UV Index and you slather on sunscreen to help protect your skin from the sun’s harmful effects. But did you know that UV rays can also be bad for your eyes?
Leaving your eyes unprotected against ultraviolet radiation can be detrimental to your vision and your overall eye health.
Let’s cover some of the basics when it comes to the different types of UV rays, their potential dangers, and what you can do to protect your eyes.
What are UV Rays?
First things first – what exactly are UV rays?
UV rays, or ultraviolet radiation, are the invisible rays from the sun that cause sunburns, as well as skin and eye damage.
The term “ultraviolet” translates to “beyond violet.” Light is basically just radiation. Different kinds of light/radiation have varying frequencies, wavelengths, and energy levels. Energy increases as the wavelength gets shorter.1
You see, the sun produces mainly visible light and infrared radiation, but it also emits invisible ultraviolet radiation. There are three kinds of these harmful rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. The difference between these rays and visible light is the ability of UV radiation to cause chemical reactions that lead to damage. And UV rays can be stronger at certain times of the day. Let’s discuss each one a bit more…
UVA rays have the longest wavelength of the three types, meaning they have the least amount of energy. Don’t let that fact fool you, however. This kind of radiation can cause sun damage to your eyes. It can also lead to premature aging of your skin (as well as other, more severe problems) and issues with immunity. UVA rays are found in natural sunlight, as well as the bulbs used in tanning beds.2
UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and higher frequency than UVA rays — which means they have more energy. This kind of ultraviolet radiation is responsible for sunburns and other serious damage to your skin cells. It is also detrimental to your eyes and your vision. UVB rays are also found in natural sunlight and tanning bed bulbs.3
With the highest energy and shortest wavelength, this kind of UV radiation is the most dangerous of all UV rays. The earth’s atmosphere blocks out most of the sun’s UVC rays.4 However, some of these rays manage to penetrate the ozone layer. More UVC rays will reach earth as the ozone layer becomes further depleted.
Ultraviolet Radiation: Sun Damage to Eyes
Exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause irreparable damage to the various structures in your eyes. This can lead to reduced or impaired function, including vision changes. This is why it’s so important to protect your eyes from harmful sunlight.
Furthermore, UV rays can cause the lens of your eye to fog and blur, leading to a loss of vision. They can also cause free radicals to form. These free radicals can cause major damage to the proteins and lipids in your eyes, leading to retina and cornea deterioration.5
Ultraviolet Radiation Risk Factors
While UV rays are a concern any time you can see sunlight, several other factors can increase your risk of damage. When you’re considering UV protection for your eyes, these are some of the variables that can affect your risk of damage:
Time of Day
The UV Index indicates times of day in which the most harmful rays are penetrating the earth’s atmosphere. UV rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.6
It’s hotter at the equator and in tropical regions. So it should come as no surprise that UV radiation is also higher in these locations, steadily decreasing as you move closer to the poles.7
Just as regions closer to the equator have higher levels of UV radiation, the same is true for higher altitudes. In fact, areas located at higher altitudes often have markedly greater UV radiation levels, increasing the risk of harmful sun exposure.8
The activities you are engaging in can have a major impact on your exposure risks. For example, water is highly reflective, so outdoor activities near water, or even snow, can increase your risk.9 Other reflective surfaces, including your car windows, can increase your exposure to harmful UV rays.
Certain medications can increase your sensitivity to ultraviolet rays.10 If you’re on any prescription or over-the-counter medications, you should make sure that you know and understand all of the side effects. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor.
Family History (Genetics)
Environmental factors clearly have a major impact on the health of your eyes. But your family history can also be a good indicator of your potential risks.11 If there is a family history of eye problems, then it’s a good idea to go above and beyond in order to protect your eyesight.
UV Protection: How to Protect Your Eyes from Harmful UV Rays
Now that you know a bit more about the basics of sun damage to eyes, let’s get to the good stuff – what you can do to avoid harmful exposure and protect your sight.
Sunglasses are much more than a trendy accessory. They offer protection, helping to prevent harmful rays from reaching your eyes and affecting your vision. They also help prevent blinding glare, which can be dangerous when you’re driving.
Sunglasses often have what’s known as an E-SPF, or eye sun protection factor. This number tells you just how much UV blocking the shades provide. It also measures the UV rays reflected off the backside of the lens and into your eyes when the sun is behind you, as this can cause damage too.12 UV 400 sunglasses are among the strongest and best when it comes to UV protection.13
Hats can offer some protection from the sun’s damaging rays. Caps, visors, and cowboy hats have large brims or bills that can shade your eyes, nose, face, and sometimes even your shoulders.
However, hats are better suited for low light (overcast days), or when you can’t wear your sunglasses. Sunglasses are still the ideal form of UV protection for eyes. But if you prefer hats, go for one with a brim that is over 3 inches for the best protection.14
Also, just in case you need another reason to avoid tanning beds: if you skip wearing goggles or protective eyewear, you could seriously damage your vision.
The bulbs emit harmful UVA and UVB rays that can lead to acute and chronic damage to your eyes.15 Many women and men who want tan skin are opting for spray tans or self-tanners in an effort to protect both their eyes and skin.
Children need to use protective eyewear too. Their vision is particularly sensitive and prone to UV damage. Keep your kids, including infants and toddlers, in sunglasses and hats on sunny days to preserve their eye health for as long as possible.16
Nutrients for Eye Health
Research has shown that exposure to the blue light from HEV radiation (another type of light from the sun) can damage the eyes and even lead to vision loss. This appears to be worse in individuals with low levels of vitamin C and other antioxidants. These vitamins and minerals are exceptionally beneficial for good eye health:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Supplements, like Sight Origins OccuVision, contain these and other beneficial vitamins and nutrients to help keep your eyes functioning at their best. They can help to prevent the normal signs of aging that can affect your eyesight.
Wear Your Shades to Block Harmful UV Rays
Here’s the bottom line: the best way to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays is to wear the right sunglasses that offer the most UV protection. And you should wear them year-round. Also, if you use tanning beds, do so sparingly and always wear the right eye protection.
In the end, you can also help boost eye health by eating the right foods and taking the right supplements for your eye health. Remember to talk with your doctor before making any major dietary changes, including the addition of supplements. And, if you have any questions about protecting your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays, ask your eye doctor.
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