As the long winter months finally come to a close, many people are undoubtedly looking forward to spending more time enjoying outdoor activities. However all that time spent in the sunshine could potentially negatively impact the health of your eyes. The ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun has been shown to be the cause of a number of health concerns, up to and including skin cancer, and can cause serious, long term damage to the eyes. At Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, we are concerned with all issues that can impact the health of your eyes, and understand that taking some basic precautions now may prevent long-term problems.
Exposure to even small doses of UV radiation over a period of many years has been shown to increase the risk of developing cataracts, the most common cause of blindness worldwide for adults over the age of 40. Left untreated, cataracts slowly cloud and discolor the lens of the eye, gradually reducing visual clarity until total blindness results. Although the progression of cataracts cannot be reversed, laser cataract surgery can be used to replace the deteriorating lens of the eye with an artificial, intraocular lens implant, effectively alleviating the damage and restoring vision to normal. Ultraviolet radiation has also been shown to contribute to macular degeneration, the slow decay of the most sensitive photoreceptors that line the center of the retina. Over time, macular degeneration reduces the eye’s ability to focus clearly on fine details and can eventually create a dark “blind spot” in the center of the field of vision. Recent research may even suggest that ultraviolent light is not the only cause for concern. Studies focusing on the highest energy range of the visual spectrum, or “blue light,” may increase the long-term risk of macular degeneration as well.
Since as much as 85% of ultraviolet radiation passes easily through even heavy cloud cover, any time that you spend outside subjects your eyes to potential damage. UV rays reflect from buildings, roadways and other surfaces, so even staying in the shade cannot provide significant protection. In fact, fresh snow can reflect 80% of UV rays, and nearly double overall exposure to solar UV radiation during outdoor winter activities. However the summer months still pose the greatest threat, as the level of ultraviolet radiation (both UVA and UVB) is at least three time higher than during the winter.
To provide adequate protection from this harmful radiation, the American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends wearing sunglasses that block out 99-100% of both UV-A and UV-B radiation, screen out 75-90% of visible light, and are matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection. Such lenses are available, in both prescription and non-prescription versions, at the GA Eye on-site optical center. Polarized lenses, which can provide varying degrees of UV protection, can also be particularly helpful for people who spend time on the water or in the snow because they cut glare from reflected surfaces. Finally, amber-colored lenses, designed specifically to block high energy blue light, can help heighten contrast, making them popular with hunters, pilots, boaters, and skiers, while potentially reducing the risk of macular degeneration.
If you have questions about the function or diseases of the eye, or would like to schedule an appointment for an eye exam, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons today to make an appointment. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more tips for healthy eyes.