Virtually everyone is exposed to UV rays on a daily basis. But the potential risks of years of exposure to these unsafe rays aren't really thought about, and the majority of people take little action to guard their eyes, even if they're expecting on being exposed to the sun for an extended period of time. UV overexposure is dangerous and cannot be reversed, and may result in several severe, sight-damaging diseases later on in life. Therefore, ongoing protection from UV rays is vital for everyone.
UV radiation, which comes mostly from the sun, is made up of 2 categories of harmful rays: UV-A and UV-B. Although only small amounts of UVA and UVB light reach the inner eye, the eye tissue is very vulnerable to the harmful effects of their rays. Small amounts of this kind of exposure can cause sunburn of the eye, also known as photokeratitis. When the cornea receives UVB rays, the outer cells are destroyed, and this can lead to pain, blurred vision or even temporary blindness. UVA rays actually penetrate much deeper into the eye, causing harm to the retina. Over a number of years, being exposed to UV rays can lead to significant and lasting damage to the eyes. Of the 20 million people who suffer from cataracts, about 20 percent of cases are caused by extended UV exposure.
An ideal way to guard your eyes from UV rays is with quality eyewear. Ensure that your sunglasses or regular eyewear block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. An insufficient pair of sunglasses can be more harmful than wearing nothing at all. Basically, if sunglasses offer no protection against UV, it means you're actually getting more UV rays. Sunglasses that are inadequate tend to block some of the light, which causes the iris to open and let even more light in. This means that more UV will be hitting the retina. It's important to check that your sunglasses give maximum UV protection.
Long-term exposure to UV rays can also result in an abnormal tissue growth on the eye, which is called pterygium. This is a narrow, wedge-shaped tissue growth with blood vessels that appear over the white part on the surface of the eye. In addition to being visually unappealing, a pterygium can be uncomfortable, and can even change the shape of the eyeball, causing astigmatism. If the pterygium starts to grow over the cornea, it can blur or obstruct vision and may result in surgery. Because pterygia are caused by extended UV exposure, it is entirely preventable.
Talk to your optometrist about all the different UV protection options, which include fixed tint sunglasses, adaptive lenses and polarized lenses.