It's a fact: almost everybody is regularly exposed to UV rays. Even though this is the case, the risks related to many years of exposure to these harmful rays aren't really thought about, and many barely take enough action to protect their eyes, even if they're planning to be outside for long periods of time. Being exposed to too much UV is unsafe and irreversible, and may cause a number of serious, vision-stealing conditions in older age. Therefore, ongoing protection from UV rays is a must for everyone.
UV radiation, originating mostly from the sun, is made up of two categories of harmful rays: UV-A and UV-B. Even though only small measures of UVA and UVB light reach the inner eye, the ocular tissue is incredibly susceptible to the damaging effects of their rays. Even in the short term, small amounts of exposure can result in sunburn of the eye, often referred to as photokeratitis. When UVB rays enter the cornea, the cells that make up its exterior are destroyed, which can lead to blurred vision, pain or even temporary blindness. UVA rays actually enter the eye more deeply, causing harm to the retina. Over time, UV rays can lead to significant and lasting damage to the eyes and vision. Out of the 20 million people who suffer from cataracts, about 20 percent are due to extended exposure to UV rays.
One of the best ways to guard your eyes from UV rays is by wearing quality eyewear. Ensure that your sunglasses or prescription eyewear block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Wearing an insufficient pair of sunglasses can sometimes be worse than wearing no sun protection at all. Basically, if your sunglasses offer no UV protection, it means you're actually increasing your exposure to UV rays. Such sunglasses tend to reduce the light, causing your iris to open and let more light in. This means that even more UV will hit your retina. Always check to make sure your sunglasses give effective UV protection.
Extended exposure to UV rays can also result in an abnormal tissue growth on the eye, known as pterygium. This is a narrow, wedge-shaped tissue growth with blood vessels that appear over the white part on the surface of the eye. In addition to being aesthetically unsightly, a pterygium can be uncomfortable, and can even alter the shape of the eyeball, causing astigmatism. If the pterygium starts to grow over the cornea, it can affect vision and may need to be surgically removed. Because pterygia are the result of extended UV exposure, it is totally avoidable.
Speak to your eye care professional about the various UV protection options, which include fixed tint sunglasses, adaptive lenses and polarized lenses.