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Effects of Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation on the Eye

The sun plays an important role in the formation of vitamin D and in the provision of energy in humans but it can also be harmful, especially on the skin and the eyes as it emits a solar radiation known as ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Most people understand better the risks of getting sun burns and skin cancer from UV radiation than its negative effects on the eyes. The eye is a very important organ in the body with very sensitive tissues. Unlike the skin, the only structure that protects it is the eye socket and partial closing of the eyelids in response to light. Unfortunately, the eyes’ natural defenses are not adequate in protecting them from all harmful UV radiation hence the need to protect the eyes.

There are several eye diseases that can be caused by exposure to UV radiation.

  • Cataracts:This is a clouding of the eye’s lens (that helps to focus the light we see) which can result in vision loss. It is the leading cause of reversible blindness. It is estimated that 20% of all cataract cases are directly caused by exposure to UV.
  • Macular Degeneration:This is the leading cause of age-related blindness. Prolonged exposure to UV light increases the risk of developing macular degeneration.
  • Pterygium: This is a growth that forms on the front surface the eye. UV light from the sun is believed to be a factor in the development of these growths.
  • Skin Cancer:Skin cancer (melanoma) in and around the eyelids is also linked to prolonged UV exposure.
  • Photokeratitis: Also known as corneal sunburn. Long hours outdoors without proper eye protection can cause this problem. It can be very painful and may cause temporary vision loss.


Am I at risk?

Everyone is at risk for eye damage from UV radiation. Any factor that increases the amount of time you spend in the sun will increase your risk. You may be at higher risk of UV radiation damage to your eyes if you:

  • Spend long hours in the sun (Bicycle or motorcycle riding, swim, field work, etc.);
  • Had cataract surgery or have a retinal disorder;
  • Use certain medicines that increase the eye’s sensitivity to light; and/or
  • Do a job that exposes you to UV radiation (welder, electrician, panel beater, etc.).

How can I protect my eyes from harmful UV radiation?

If you spend a lot of time outdoor, consider the use of sunglasses with side shield which can provide additional protection from the harmful solar radiation. Safety goggles are also good recommendation for welders and electricians.

Photochromic or Transition lenses which are optical lenses that darken when exposed to ultraviolet rays and adjust to varying intensities of sunlight is an excellent choice in reducing glare and blocking off 99-100% UV harmful rays.

Finally, visit your eye doctor annually for a comprehensive eye examination. It is a good way to monitor your eye health and maintain good vision. We would love to see you at iCare Clinics to help you determine your eye health status and pick out the perfect pair of glasses to protect your eyes.

Oyedeji Taiwo (OD)

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