As featured in The Times recently, the importance of protecting your eyes against the damaging effects of sunlight is under emphasised and not well publicised, in contrast the dangers to skin health, are well known. Sunlight contains 3 wave lengths of ultraviolet light, being UVB, UVC and UVA, with the later not filtered by the ozone layer. A common misconception that often surrounds sunlight damage to eyes, and subsequently increases the likelihood of vision problems, is that you are safe on cloudy days. This is a fallacy as UV light can penetrate through clouds, so regardless of the cover, your vision is still negatively impacted, creating a false sense of security. Often causing cumulative damage, the initial impact can often go unnoticed and may build over time, becoming noticeable when it is too late.
Sunglasses are often perceived as the saviour, although the influx of cheap and replica pairs may in fact paradoxically accentuate the problem through not providing adequate UV protection, if any at all. This is because sunglasses shade the pupil and make it dilate, exposing the natural lens and the retina behind it to even greater levels of UV light. Safety standards that indicate compliance include BS EN ISO 12312-1:2013 or the CE Mark.
There are three eye conditions that can be confidently linked to over exposure to UV levels, represented by the ABC Acronym:
- Ageing: It is accepted that age related conditions, such as Cataracts and AMD (Age Related Macular Degeneration) are promoted if the eye is exposed to high UV levels over a period of time. Additionally, small growths that occur on the eyes surface, known as pterygia and pingueculae, can occur if the eye is exposed, resulting in discomfort and an affect on the cosmetic appearance of the eyes. Eyelid skin is also very thin and is more susceptible to UV damage leading to exaggerated ageing signs of saggy skin, hooded eyelids etc.
- Burning (Of the Cornea): Technically referred to as Photo-Keratitis, this can be caused through sunbathing without shades or even snow-blindness. Symptoms can be eased through resting the eyes and placing a cold flannel over them.
- Cancer: malignant melanoma and other skin cancers (rodent ulcers and squamous cell carcinoma), can all arise as a result of UV light damage affecting the skin around the eye. Malignant melanoma of the iris and of the retina can also arise but its not known whether this is related to UV light damage.
If you are concerned about visible changes to your eye and to your vision it is paramount to seek a consultation immediately to ensure conditions are diagnosed correctly and in time to achieve the best treatment possible.