It's safe to assume that almost everybody is exposed to UV rays on a regular basis. But the possible dangers related to long-term exposure to these harmful rays aren't really considered, and many take little action to protect their eyes, even if they're expecting on being exposed to the sun for an extended period of time. UV overexposure is unsafe and irreversible, and can also result in a number of serious, sight-stealing diseases down the road. And so, continuing protection from these rays is vital for everyone.
There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB, and both are harmful. Even though only minimal measures of UVA and UVB light reach the inner eye, the ocular tissue is extremely receptive to the damaging effects of their rays. Even in the short term, small amounts of exposure can easily cause sunburnt eyes, or photokeratitis. When UVB rays are absorbed by the cornea, the surrounding cells are destroyed, and this can be expressed as pain, blurred vision or in serious cases, temporary blindness. UVA rays can penetrate much deeper into the eye, which harms to the retina. Over time, exposure to UV rays may cause significant and lasting damage to the eyes. Of the 20 million people suffering from cataracts, about 20 percent are due to long-term UV exposure.
An ideal way to protect your eyes from UV rays is with good eyewear. Ensure that your sunglasses or prescription glasses block 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. Wearing an inadequate pair of sunglasses can actually be more harmful than wearing nothing at all. Think about it this way: when sunglasses offer no protection against UV, you're actually being exposed to more UV rays. Sunglasses that are inadequate tend to reduce the light, which causes your iris to open and allow more light in. This means that even more UV will reach the retina. Always check to make sure your sunglasses offer maximum UV protection.
Long-term exposure to UV rays can also lead to an abnormal tissue growth on the eye, known as pterygium. This is a thin, wedge-shaped tissue growth with blood vessels that grow over the white part on the surface of the eye. In addition to being cosmetically unappealing, a pterygium can be uncomfortable, and can even change the curve of the eyeball, causing astigmatism. If the pterygium begins to grow over the cornea, it can affect vision and may result in surgery. Because pterygia are caused by long-term UV exposure and windy conditions, it is completely avoidable.
Speak to your optometrist about all of your UV protection options, including fixed tint sunglasses, adaptive lenses and polarized lenses.