The summer months are some of the best times of the year to be outside and enjoy the warm weather. Whether it is to travel, go sightseeing, visit the beach, or another activity, our outdoor activity is bound to increase. More time spent outdoors also means more exposure to the sun. While time spent outdoors brings benefits such as increased Vitamin D, overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause damage, especially to the eyes.
July is dedicated to Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month, and it is important to understand how UV works, its impact on vision health, as well as how you can protect your vision health from UV radiation.
About Ultraviolet Radiation
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of energy that is measured on the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum and is often not visible to human eyes. UV radiation can appear naturally from the sun and artificially through sources such as tanning beds, lasers, and halogen, fluorescent, or incandescent lights, among others.
UV radiation is categorized into UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. The rays differ based on the amount of energy that they produce and their wavelength. UVA rays are found to have the least energy. In fact, most of the UV rays we encounter are UVA rays. They are known to be attributed to skin cell aging, long-term skin damage, and some skin cancers.
UVB rays have more energy than UVA rays and are known for being attributed to sunburn and most types of skin cancer. Human beings are also likely to come in contact with UVB rays.
UVC rays come with the most energy yet operate at high layers in the atmosphere, so we are rarely exposed to them. Nevertheless, some artificial UVC rays are produced during welding, lamp production, and UV sanitizing bulbs that are meant to kill bacteria.
The American Cancer Society founds that the sun produces 95% UVA rays with 5% UVB rays. The intensity of the rays depends on the time of day or year, distance from the equator, the appearance of clouds, reflection of surfaces such as water, sand, or snow, as well as any ozone contents in the atmosphere. Note that UV radiation exposure still exists even in colder winter months.
Ultraviolet Impact on the Eyes
While overexposure to UV radiation can cause skin damage our eyes are not exempt. UV radiation can significantly impact all aspects of our eyes. Minimal impacts can include dryness, wrinkles, and a change in pigmentation while more severe impacts include corneal damage, cataracts, and macular degeneration. In many cases, the damage that the sun has on our eyes can cause irreversible damage and a decreased quality of your vision.
People are at a higher risk of incurring damage to their eye health as a result of UV radiation exposure if they spend a lot of time in the sun, especially during the summer months, live in a region that is closer to the equator, or have higher exposure to artificial forms of UV radiation.
Protecting Your Eye Health from Ultraviolet Radiation
There are a number of proactive measures that may serve as a source of protection for your vision health from UV radiation.
- Avoid staring into the sun or artificial forms of light.
- Try to avoid going outside during midday hours. If you do step outside during those times, finding shade offers protection from being directly impacted by UV rays.
- Wear sunglasses or sun-adaptive glasses that offer UV protection when you step outside.
The American Cancer Society Medical and Editorial Content Team. (2019, July 19). Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/healthy/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/uv-radiation.html
Center for Devices and Radiological Health. (2022). Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/tanning/ultraviolet-uv-radiation
Kuo, I. C. (2019, July 24). How to protect your eyes from UV damage. How to Protect Your Eyes from UV Damage. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/articles/how-to-protect-your-eyes-from-uv-damage
National Center for Environmental Health. (2022, July 5). UV radiation. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/uv-radiation-safety/index.html