What is UV Radiation?
UV radiation is a light that comes in three different forms, UVA, UVB, and UVC. The majority of what reaches our eyes and skin is UVA, but small traces of the latter two also leak through the ozone layer of our earth from the sun. Overexposure of UV radiation to the human body damages DNA cells. This damage can result in something as mild as sunburn, to something as severe as skin cancer. Since human eyes are just as openly exposed as the human skin, the effects of UV radiation on the eyes are nearly the same. Just like the skin can develop sunburn from over exposure to the sun, eyes can develop a type of sunburn called photokeratitis. Like skin sunburn, photokeratitits’ effects are usually only surface deep and temporary, but long term exposure of UV radiation to the eye can cause more severe effects like cataracts or macular degeneration.
Where Does UV Radiation Come From?
Most of the UV light that humans come in contact with is from the sun. But contrary to popular assumption, the sun isn’t the only source of UV light. Human inventions of light, like tanning booth lamps, welding machines, and lasers all contain traces of UV light that are enough to cause major damage to the eyes. Another incorrect assumption is that hot weather locations, like the beach, are more susceptible to UV damage than cold weather locations, like the mountains. Mountainous, cold terrains are just as exposed to UV radiation as higher temperature terrains, if not more.
Photokeratitis, commonly called “snow blindness,” is a form of eye damage resulting from UV rays reflecting from the snow into the eye. Also, UV radiation increases with altitude, so the higher up you are, the more damage can be done. UV rays can also reflect off of other surfaces such as sand, water, and concrete, so make sure you are protected regardless of what environment you’re in.
Protection From UV Radiation
Here are a few ways that you can protect your eyes from UV radiation to avoid long and short term damage.
1. First and foremost, is to wear UV protective sunglasses during the daytime. Make sure that whatever sunglasses you are purchasing have UV protection. The best sunglasses for UV protection are the ones that have the most face coverage, and are a solid tint all the way through (not a faded tint). Also, UV rays can pass through thin clouds, so even if it’s a lightly clouded day, wear your shades. Make sure that the sunglasses you wear block 100% of UV radiation, this is the recommendation by the FDA. Contact lenses and prescription glasses also offer UV protection when it is too dark outside to wear sunglasses.
2. Protect your eyes by wearing safety goggles or sunglasses if you are around UV emitting lights. Welders, people that use tanning booths, and people that work around lasers in the tech industry should all wear protective eyewear when working around UV rays.
3. Wear sunscreen on your face and skin. UV rays can reflect off of your skin and into your eyes, so make sure that you use a sunscreen that offers the proper UV protection for your environment. The FDA recommends that you use a sunscreen that offers SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15 or more.