June is UV-Light Eye Safety Month
We all love sunny days, especially those of us who live under a milk-white cloud cover most of the year. We also know that while some sunlight is enjoyable, too much can lead to sunburns, blisters and, worse yet, skin cancer. But, have you ever thought about the short- and long-term consequences of ultraviolet (UV) light exposure for your eyes?
"Studies have shown that long-term exposure to the sun's UV rays without protection may contribute to the development of various eye disorders, including macular degeneration and cataracts," notes Dr. Mark Freedman, a leading eye surgeon at Eye Care Specialists ophthalmology practice in Milwaukee. "The more exposure to bright light, the greater the chances of developing these two leading causes of visual impairment and blindness."
UV-A rays have been shown to penetrate deep into the eye and may injure the macula, the part of the retina responsible for sight in the center of the field of vision. UV-B rays are mainly absorbed by the cornea and lens of the eye and can damage these tissues. For example, cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, which may be increased by exposure to sunlight. Photokeratitis, or "corneal sunburn," is a result of intense exposure to UV-B and can cause extreme pain and vision loss for several days. Pterygium is tissue growth on the white of the eye that can be caused by UV-light exposure and may spread to the cornea without treatment and may eventually require surgery.
"In addition to long-term UV-light exposure, you also need to protect your eyes from severe damage caused by single outings on very bright days," reports Dr. Norman Cohen, an ophthalmologist with 30+ years of experience. "Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light reflected off sand, snow or pavement can damage the eye's surface. These surface burns are similar to sunburns in that they usually disappear within a couple of days, however, they may lead to further complications later in life."
One of the state’s busiest cataract surgeons, Dr. Robert Sucher explains, "It's most important to stay out of the sun or to protect your eyes between 10 and 2, when the sun's ultraviolet rays are the strongest. But, you really should just make it a habit to wear both sunglasses and a hat or visor whenever you're outside for a prolonged period, even if it's gray and overcast." Sucher adds, "No matter what your age, you should take precautions. If you instill these habits in children early on, it will be easier to enforce, and you'll be protecting their sight for the future."
But what type of sunglasses should you wear? "You need to buy sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of the same UV-A and UV-B rays that can damage your skin," advises Dr. Brett Rhode, Head of Ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. "And, don't be misled by the color of the lens or the price tag dangling from the frame. The ability to block UV light is not dependent on the darkness of the lens. UV protection comes from a chemical coating applied to the lens surface. As for cost, many $10 sunglasses provide equal or greater protection than $100 lenses. With expensive sunglasses, you're paying for style, frame quality, and options such as scratch-resistant coatings —not protective ability."
If you spend a great deal of time by a pool, at the beach, fishing, or water or snow skiing, you should consider purchasing goggles or sunglasses that wrap around your temples. Reflected sunlight off water and snow can be the most dangerous type of UV light because it is intensified. “We recommend that patients wear wrap-around lenses that block the sun's rays from the sides and a hat or visor to protect against rays from above for the best possible protection,” says Dr. David Scheidt, past president of the Milwaukee Optometric Society. "And, don't forget to wear eye protection when near UV-light sources other than the sun, such as welding lamps or tanning booths."
Avid outdoorsman and ophthalmologist Dr. Daniel Ferguson, offers additional advice, "Before jumping into the water, take off your sunglasses and pop on a pair of swimming goggles. Chlorine can make your eyes red and puffy, and ponds and lakes may have bacteria that can get underneath contact lenses and cause potentially blinding damage to the cornea. In fact, the best policy is to never wear contacts while swimming."
Now that you're not "in the dark" about the dangers of UV light, don't forget to grab a pair of sunglasses before heading out to Summerfest, State Fair, your favorite lake, or a backyard pool. You'll not only look great, you'll enjoy distortion-free, comfortable vision now and, quite possibly, in the future. “And, remember, besides wearing sunglasses and hats, the best way to protect your vision is to schedule regular, thorough, dilated eye exams to check for hidden signs of cataracts, macular degeneration and other sight-threatening conditions. Ask yourself and your family members—‘When was your last eye exam?’”
To schedule a comprehensive eye exam or to receive free educational booklets on cataracts and macular degeneration, call Eye Care Specialists’ Community Education Hotline at 414-321-7035.
The physicians quoted in this article are partners at Eye Care Specialists, SC. Since 1985, this leading ophthalmology practice has provided comprehensive medical, surgical and laser care for virtually every eye condition to more than 121,000 people in southeastern Wisconsin.
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