Ultraviolet (UV) protection is a concern for many Americans,
particularly in the spring and summer months, but most people are thinking
about their skin, not their eyes. The American Optometric Association (AOA)
warns that prolonged exposure to the sun's UV rays and short wavelength light
(violet and blue light) without proper protection may cause eye conditions that
can lead to a variety of vision disorders.
According to the AOA's 2007 American Eye-QÃ‚®
survey, which identified Americans' attitudes and behaviors regarding eye care
and related issues, 40 percent of Americans do not think UV protection is an
important factor to consider when purchasing sunglasses.
"Just as skin is 'burned' by UV radiation the eye can also suffer
damage," said Gregory Good, OD, Ph.D., member of AOA's Commission on Ophthalmic
Standards. "The lesson-especially for young people-is that eyes need
protection, too. Protection can be achieved by simple, safe, and inexpensive
methods such as wearing a brimmed hat and using eyewear that properly absorbs
Overexposure to UV rays has been linked to age-related cataracts,
pterygium, photokeratitis and corneal degenerative changes, the AOA said. These
conditions can cause blurred vision, irritation, redness, tearing, temporary
vision loss and, in some instances, blindness. And, while the correlation is
still unclear, there appears to be a link between excessive summer sun exposure
and retinal pigmentation.
The AOA cautions that the effects of sunlight exposure are
cumulative; therefore, individuals whose work or recreational activities
involve lengthy exposure to sunlight are at the greatest risk. UV radiation
reflects off surfaces such as snow, water and white sand, so the risk is
particularly high for people on beaches, boats or ski slopes. The risk for
serious damage is greatest during the mid-day hours, generally from 10 a.m. to
3 p.m., and during summer months.
Children and teenagers are particularly susceptible to the sun's
damaging rays because they typically spend more time outdoors than adults, and
the lenses of their eyes are more transparent than those of adults. The
transparent lenses allow more short wavelength light to reach the retina of the
The effects of UV radiation are cumulative, so it's important to
develop good protection habits early in life, such as wearing sunglasses with
UV protection. The American Eye-QÃ‚® survey showed that 61
percent of Americans buy sunglasses for their children, but 23 percent do not
check that the lenses provide protection against UV rays.
By educating Americans about the dangers of UV rays on the eyes
and the importance of choosing proper eyewear that provides the best UV
protection, doctors of optometry are helping patients protect their long-term
The following top five tips from the American Optometric
Association can help prevent further eye damage from exposure to UV
Wear protective eyewear any time your eyes are exposed to UV
radiation, even on cloudy days and during the winter.
Look for quality sunglasses that offer good protection.
Sunglasses should block out 99 to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B radiation
and screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.
Check to make sure sunglass lenses are perfectly matched in
color and free of distortions or imperfections.
Purchase gray-colored lenses because they reduce light
intensity without altering the color of objects, providing the most natural
Don't forget protection for children and teenagers. They
typically spend more time in the sun than adults and are at greater risk of
damaging their retinas from short wavelength light.
Additionally, be sure to receive routine comprehensive eye exams
from an eye doctor. It's a good way to monitor eye health, maintain good
vision, and keep up-to-date on the latest in UV radiation protection.