UV Protection Critical for Eye Health

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Summer is on its way, but most Americans don't recognize the importance of ultraviolet (UV) protection for their eyes to prevent damage and visual impairment.  In fact, according to the American Optometric Association's (AOA) recent American Eye-Q survey, only 47 percent of Americans said UV protection is the most important factor when purchasing sunglasses. Additionally, less than one-third (28 percent) of Americans indicated that wearing sunglasses and sunscreen should always go hand in hand.

"UV radiation cannot be seen or felt, making it especially dangerous as the damage done to the eyes from long-term exposure to UV rays cannot be repaired," said Fraser Horn, OD, a member of the AOA's Sports Vision Council and Assistant Professor of Optometry, Pacific University College of Optometry. "Whether it's a cloudy or sunny day, summer or winter, eyes, just like the skin, need to be protected from the sun's UV rays in order to decrease the risk of diseases and disorders."

Ongoing exposure to UV radiation can cause serious harm to the eyes and age them prematurely. Long-term effects include cataracts, cancer, age-related macular degeneration, and damage to the retina. If the eyes are exposed to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time, a "sunburn" called photokeratitis can occur. This condition may be painful and include symptoms such as red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing.  Photokeratitis is usually temporary and rarely causes permanent damage.

Parents should be particularly avid in protecting children's eyes from UV rays, with children receiving up to three times the annual sun exposure of adults. Children's eyes are especially susceptible to UV-related damage because the crystalline lenses in their eyes are more transparent to UV than adults. Unlike the mature lens of an adult eye, a child's lens filters out less UV rays so more radiation reaches the retina. According to the American Eye-Q survey, only 17 percent of parents make sure their children are wearing sunglasses when they are wearing sunscreen.

A good rule of thumb is to wear sunglasses or contact lenses that offer appropriate UV protection, apply UV-blocking sunscreen around the eye area and wear a hat to help protect the eyes.

To provide adequate protection for the eyes, the AOA recommends sunglasses and protective contact lenses that:

>> Block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation

>> Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light

Additionally, sunglasses should be perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection and have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition.

The best way to monitor eye health, maintain good vision, and keep up-to-date on the latest in UV protection is by scheduling yearly comprehensive eye exams with an eye doctor. To find an optometrist in your area, or for additional information on how best to protect your eyes from UV radiation, please visit aoa.org/uv-protection.xml.