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Keeping Eyes Safe from UV Rays

It's a fact that basically everybody is exposed to UV rays. But the potential dangers related to many years of exposure to these harsh rays aren't really considered, and many take little action to guard their eyes, even if they're expecting on being exposed to the sun for many hours. UV overexposure is unsafe and irreversible, and can result in a number of severe, sight-damaging diseases later on in life. This means that ongoing protection from these rays is vital for everyone.

UV radiation, which comes mostly from the sun, consists of two categories of damaging rays: UVA and UVB. Even though only minimal amounts of UVA and UVB light reach the inner eye, the ocular tissue is very receptive to the damaging effects of their rays. Even in the short term, small amounts of exposure can easily lead to sunburn of the eye, or photokeratitis. When UVB rays enter the cornea, the surrounding cells are destroyed, and this can lead to blurred vision, pain or temporary blindness. UVA rays can permeate the eye much deeper, which causes damage to the retina. Over a number of years, UV rays can cause substantial damage to eye sight. Out of the 20 million people with cataracts, about 20 percent are partly caused by long-term UV exposure.

One of the best ways to protect your eyes from UV rays is by wearing high quality sunglasses. Check that your sunglasses or regular eyewear block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Wearing an inadequate pair of sunglasses can be worse than using nothing at all. Basically, if sunglasses don't offer any UV protection, it means you're actually increasing your exposure to UV rays. Such sunglasses will block some of the light, forcing your iris to open and let more light in. And this means that more UV will be hitting the retina. Always check to make sure your sunglasses provide enough UV protection.

Years of exposure to UV rays can also lead to 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 of the eye's surface. In addition to being cosmetically unappealing, a pterygium can irritate the eye, and can even alter the contour of the eyeball, which leads to astigmatism. If the pterygium starts to grow over the cornea, it can damage vision and may need to be surgically removed. Because pterygia are caused by extended UV exposure, it is completely avoidable.

Speak to your eye care professional about all the different UV protection options, which include adaptive lenses, polarized lenses and fixed tint sunglasses.