Sebastian J Troia, M.D.
It happens like clockwork every year – temperatures rise, school gets out and you receive your annual lecture about protecting your skin from the summer sun. But what about your eyes? UVA and UVB rays can cause just as much damage to eyes as they do to skin.
The effects of not protecting eyes from UV rays can manifest in several ways. Though they are often associated with aging, cataracts can result from UVB ray exposure. Like other types of cataracts, radiation cataracts cause the loss of transparency and can only be repaired through surgery. Second, exposure to UV rays is damaging to the retina, leading scientists to believe that UVA rays can contribute to macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease caused by the deterioration of the retina. The last potential danger of UV ray exposure is the basic sunburn. Much like skin, retinas and corneas are sensitive to UV rays and can get burned, causing eyes to become red, irritated and swollen.
Fortunately, protecting your eyes from UV rays is as simple as making a fashion statement. Children and adults should wear sunglasses with 95 percent UV protection when going outside during the day. If you are unsure if your sunglasses meet the recommended protection requirements, bring them to your eye doctor and have them tested. Keep in mind that just because your shades have a dark tint, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a high-protection coating.
Because children’s eyes are still developing, their lenses allow 70 percent more UV exposure to the retinas, making them more susceptible to damage. If you have a child that doesn’t like wearing sunglasses, you can either attach a strap that keeps them on, or have the child wear a hat instead. If opting for the hat, remember that UV rays can reflect off of surfaces such as buildings, sand and water, allowing exposure even though the child may be wearing a brimmed hat.
One of the hardest parts of protecting eyes from UV rays is getting your kids to go along with it. However, there are plenty of options. You can buy protected goggles for hanging out in the pool, and there are some brands of contacts that have protection built in. It’s just a matter of talking to your doctor and seeing what works best for you and your family.