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UV Eye Protection and the Risks Associated with Sun Exposure

written by: AlyssaAst • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 5/28/2009

Most people know the sun's UV rays can damage skin, but few know the eyes can be damaged as well. There are many risks associated with sun exposure to the eyes. Learn tips for UV eye protection to decrease the risk of damage.

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    It is a well known fact that the sun's harmful UV rays can damage your skin, but few people know that your eyes can be damaged also. There are numerous risks associated with sun exposure that affect the eyes. By practicing UV eye protection tips you can reduce your risk of permanently damaging your eyes.

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    Risk Factors

    Certain risk factors can increase your chance of permanently damaging your eyes. If you spend long hours out in the sun, you increase your chances of causing complications with your eyes. Many prescribed drugs make the eyes sensitive to the sun. If you take sulfa drugs, birth control pills, tetracycline, tranquilizers, or diuretics you have an increased risk of damaging your eyes with the suns UV rays. Previous retina disorders and cataract surgeries can also raise your likeliness of damaging your eyes.

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    Dangers of UV Rays

    Numerous health risks are associated with sun exposure to the eyes. There are two different types of UV rays that can damage your eyes. Exposure to UV-A rays can damage your central vision and a section of the retina at the back of the eye, known as the macula.

    The second type of UV ray that can damage your eyes is called UV-B rays. This can affect the front of the eyes, such as the cornea and the lens. This area of the eye absorbs more of the suns rays than the other parts of the eyes. UV-B rays are more likely to damage your eyes than UV-A rays.

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    Cataracts

    Exposure to the sun can eventually cause cataracts. This condition occurs when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. This makes proper vision difficult because the lens in no longer able to let in enough light to allow you to focus on objects. UV-B rays are more likely to cause this condition.

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    Muscular Degeneration

    Muscular degeneration can develop from the sun damaging your eyes. This condition is the number one cause of vision loss in elderly people. Both types of UV rays can cause this condition.

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    Skin Cancer

    Prolonged exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer to develop around the eye. Skin cancer can begin to develop on the eye lids and underneath the eye. UV-A and UV-B rays can cause skin cancer to develop.

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    Corneal Sunburn

    If you are exposed to UV-B rays for only a short time, you can develop corneal sunburn. This often occurs when someone has been at the beach or has been skiing. This condition is often very painful and can cause temporary vision loss.

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    Pterygium

    A common condition to develop in people that work outside is called Pterygium. This condition causes a growth on the white area of the eye. The growth can become large enough that it starts to reduce the ability to see.

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    UV Protection

    There are many ways UV eye protection can be practiced. Whenever you are going to be outside for prolonged periods of time, you should take precautions against the suns harmful rays. Wearing hats with large brims help protect the eyes from UV rays. If you are going to participate in an activity where wind or debris, such as biking, your eyes need to be covered by sun glasses or safety glasses in order to protect the eyes. If you are going to take part in water sport or skiing, glasses with polarized lens should be worn to protect the eyes from any glare. When you hike or do mountain climbing, polarized lens should be worn as well. If you are going to participate in any activity, such as ball sports or working with power tools, safety glasses should be worn to protect the eyes from possible damage.

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    References:

    “The UV Learning Center” 2007 preventblindness.org