2012: Protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays

According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and about 65-90 percent of melanomas are caused by ultraviolet rays. We know the importance of protecting our skin from these harmful UV rays; but what about our eyes and even the sensitive skin around our eyes?

Ultraviolet rays are an invisible form of radiation emitted from the sun, tanning beds, welding machines, lasers and sunlamps. The three types of UV rays are ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC).

• UVA is the most common kind of radiation at the earth's surface. UVA rays can pass through the cornea and reach the lens and retina inside the eye.

• Most UVB rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, so they are less common at the earth's surface than UVA rays. UVB rays don't reach as far into the skin as UVA rays, but they can still be damaging. UVB radiation stimulates the production of melanin (a skin pigment), causing the skin to darken, creating a suntan. But in higher doses, UVB rays cause sunburn that increases the risk of skin cancer. UVB rays also cause skin discolorations, wrinkles and other signs of premature aging of the skin.

• UVC rays are very dangerous, but they are absorbed by the ozone layer and do not reach the earth’s surface.

Extended exposure to these UV rays has been linked to eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, pingueculae, pterygium, and photokeratitis. Too much exposure to UV rays can also change skin texture, causing the skin to age prematurely, and can lead to skin cancer.

The most common malignant tumor of the eyelid is basal cell carcinoma. Another condition known as solar keratosis is directly related to excessive solar/UV radiation. It presents as a dry scaly lesion and can proceed to malignancy as a squamous cell carcinoma. The American Optometric Association recommends the use of quality sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat when outdoors to prevent these conditions.

What to look for when

purchasing sunglasses

Sunglasses are not just an accessory to our sense of style but more importantly, an accessory for the health of our eyes. When selecting a frame, look for wrap around styles if you plan on being outdoors for an extended period of time.

The lenses should block 99-100 percent of UV light. Polarized lenses are very beneficial around water or other reflective surfaces as they can reduce glare and provide more clear vision. UV levels are greater when highly reflective surfaces are present, like snow and sand. In fact, UV exposure can nearly double when UV rays are reflected from the snow. UV levels are also greater at higher altitudes therefore sunglasses are crucial when skiing. Protect your eyes even in the shade as UV light can reflect off surrounding buildings.

Kids need eye protection as well

It is also important to protect children from harmful solar radiation as they tend to spend more time playing outdoors. The harmful effects tend to add up during an individual’s lifetime. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce the risks early. Polycarbonate lenses which are impact resistant are strongly recommended for children as they protect the eyes from injuries.

Ultraviolet rays may be invisible but the long term effects of over exposure are very visible. In order to reduce your risks remember to protect your skin with sunscreen but don’t forget to protect your eyes with quality sunglasses.

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