Ultraviolet Rays and Your Eyes

Regardless of whether you are leaning back on a seashore, swimming, climbing a mountain or skiing down a mountain, you want to make the most of your activity and time. However, your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause you harm. The odds are that you might get a sunburn to your skin and your eyes.

But what are UV rays? In brief, UV rays are an electromagnetic radiation present in sunlight and making up about 1% of the total light released by the sun. The fact is that you need suitable doses of sunlight because UV rays enable your body to produce vitamin D which is essential to your health and mood. However, excessive exposure of UV rays on eyes and skin causes health issues.

A tricky business!

Glare from the water, snow and sand gets you exposed to UV rays even if there is little sun and the weather is cloudy. Staring directly at the sun, especially during a solar eclipse, causes long lasting and significant harm to your eyes.

However, sunlight isn’t the only source of UV rays. The sun, of course, is the strongest source of ultraviolet radiation, yet there are also other sources that are mostly artificial, such as those you find and use in industry and commerce. In your indoor ventures, for instance, such as when using a sunlamp or a tanning bed, or even when welding, the chances are that you would receive the same if not a higher exposure to UV rays. The same applies when using photographic flood lamps or mercury vapor lamps. All you need to do is taking the right precautions by using these UV sources responsibly and attentively.

What are the risks?

Exposing yourself to UV rays can cause premature aging and damage to your skin such as wrinkles and liver spots. The most common and immediate effects of UV rays, however, are sunburn to your skin and especially to your eyes. The reason is that more than 99% of UV radiation is absorbed by the front of the eyes. Photokeratitis and cataracts are two common effects from UV exposure.

  • Photokeratitis: Also called corneal sunburn, photokeratitis is compared to a sunburn except that it affects the corneas of your eyes instead of your skin. Photokeratitis can develop if you spend several hours under intense UV ray exposure. It causes painful, teary eyes that can temporarily damage your cornea and the conjunctiva. You may experience symptoms such as pain or redness, eye irritation, swelling, blurry vision, twitching of the eyelids and headaches. These symptoms last from 6 to 24 hours, but they usually disappear within 48 hours. The longer you’re exposed to UV rays, the more severe your symptoms are likely to be.
  • Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the clear lens of the eye due to overexposure to UV rays. This clouding is similar to when you look at a foggy window and cannot see clearly. It would just make it more difficult for you to see, read or drive a car. You may treat such a condition by applying strong lighting and wearing an eyeglass. In rare instances where the symptoms persist and your vision stays impaired, you might need a cataract surgery, fortunately a safe operation with a high success level.

How can you protect yourself?

Any exposure you make to UV rays can be minimized if not completely prevented just by taking some precautions. Here is a list of what you can do to keep yourself sound:

  • Sit in the shade or wear a hat: Overexposing yourself to the sun is damaging to your skin and will prevent you from keeping your looks as you age. So, if you are on the beach and already feeling the scorching sun, you might need to find shade or wear a hat. Listen to your body and just remember that it is in your best interest to protect your eyes and skin. 
  • Buy suitable contact lenses: If you wear contact lenses and work or play in the sun, ask your eye care specialist about UV absorbing contacts. These contact lenses do really exist as they are manufactured just to keep your eyes protected.
  • Use the appropriate eye protective equipment: It is essential that you do not get exposed to ultraviolet radiation on the job or in your recreational activities, such as when welding or using lamps or a tanning bad. This requires you to wear special goggles.

How can you treat yourself?

With these precautions applied, you not only protect your eyes but also save time and money that might have otherwise been spent uselessly. If worst come to worst and you started to experience some unhealthy symptoms, do not worry; remember that almost everything you may feel or experience could be treated and cured. Just consider taking the following steps:

  • Go indoors, stay in a darkened room for some time until you make sure the symptoms are gone.
  • Put a cold washcloth over your eyes to relieve the discomfort.

In case there is a need for you to undergo a complete eye exam, our experienced optometrists will refer you to an ophthalmologist who will then examine your eyes and ask you questions about your work environment and recent activities. Eventually, the ophthalmologist will determine if and how much damage has occurred to your eyes and prescribe you the right treatment.

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