FRIDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Folks have been taught to
slather on sunscreen, slip on a shirt and clap a hat on their heads
to protect their skin from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.
That's all good. But not adding a pair of good sunglasses to the
ensemble still leaves people at risk, eye doctors say.
Ultraviolet, or UV, rays can cause significant damage to
unprotected eyes, resulting in a number of illnesses and disorders
that can rob people of their sight.
"People are more aware of skin cancer. There's more awareness of exposing your skin to the sun," said Dr. J. Alberto Martinez, a practicing ophthalmologist in Bethesda, Md., and a clinical professor of ophthalmology at Georgetown University Medical School. "But at the same time, the eyes suffer dramatically from ultraviolet exposure. UV exposure is a public health problem, and, as an ophthalmologist, I see the continuous, serious problems that are caused by UV."
Both short- and long-term exposure to UV rays can cause vision
problems and eye damage, according to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency's Office of Air and Radiation.
People exposed to bright sunlight for even short periods can
develop a "sunburn of the eye" in the form of either photokeratitis
Photokeratitis is an inflammation of the cornea, the transparent
front part of the eye that covers the iris, pupil and lens,
according to the World Health Organization. "The sun can cause
superficial cells on the front of the cornea to become damaged and
die off," said Dr. Lee Duffner, an ophthalmologist in Hollywood,
Fla. Photoconjunctivitis is a similar inflammation that affects the
conjunctiva, the membrane lining the inside of the eyelids and the
eye socket. Both conditions can be very painful, but people tend to
recover quickly from them with no long-term damage to their
Long-term UV exposure can do cumulative eye damage over time,
causing more insidious and dangerous threats to a person's vision,
Of course, such damage doesn't occur just in the summer, or even
just when you're standing in sunshine. Bright reflected sunlight
from sidewalks, aluminum, snow and other surfaces can cause UV
damage just as easily as direct sunlight. In fact, one of the more
well-known forms of photokeratitis is snow blindness, which occurs
when skiers and climbers are exposed to high levels of UV radiation
from light reflected off snow.
So how to protect yourself? Sunglasses. It's that simple, the
experts say. A wide-brimmed hat wouldn't hurt, but sunglasses are
The sunglasses should be rated to absorb 99 to 100 percent of
both UV-A and UV-B radiation. Read the labels. And keep in mind
that how much you pay may not guarantee protection.
"It's not really price-related," Duffner said. "I've seen very expensive sunglasses that are not good ultraviolet absorbers, and I've seen cheap sunglasses that were great ultraviolet absorbers."
Also, toss fashion sense out the window, the eye experts say.
Small, stylish sunglasses will allow UV radiation to reach the
eyes. "If possible, buy wrap-around sunglasses," Duffner said.
"With a standard pair of glasses, a fair amount of sunlight still
strikes the eye from the side."
The worst forms of UV-related eye disease come from accumulated
damage, making it important to start protecting kids' eyes so they
will have a better chance of maintaining their vision in their old
The bulk of exposure occurs in the first 18 years of life,"
Martinez said. "The more sun damage you have, the more sensitive
you are to later exposure. The trick is to try to get kids to wear
sunglasses. It's difficult, but you must try."
Prevent Blindness American has more on
protecting eyes from the sun.
For more on
UV damage to the eyes, read one woman's story.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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