Do UV Rays Hurt Your Eyes?

UV Rays

Frequent, continued exposure to UV rays can increase your risk of developing certain eye diseases.

You know time in the sun can harm your skin, but you might not know the damage it can cause to your vision, from cataracts to cancer.

The Different Types of UV Rays

Two different kinds of UV rays can cause harm to your eyesight. The first, UV-A, can damage the macula, the portion of the retina at the back of your eye. The front of your eye — the lens and the cornea — absorb mostly UV-B rays.

Eye Problems That Can Result

These eye conditions are more likely to develop in people who have had long-term, recurrent exposure to UV rays:

  • Cataracts: A clouding of the eye’s lens that can eventually completely obscure vision
  • Photokeratitis: A sunburn in your eye as a result of an excessive amount of UV-B ray exposure; also referred to as “snow blindness;” can cause extreme pain and short-term vision loss
  • Macular Degeneration: The top cause of age-related blindness; ultraviolet light can damage the macula over time

Are You at Risk?

Do you live in the mountains or the sunbelt? Do you spend hours every week skiing, surfing, swimming, or mountain climbing? Do you frequent the tanning parlor?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you are more at risk than the average person. Also, if you take certain medications that increase your eyes’ light sensitivity, the damage may be magnified.

Prevention and Protection Tips

To minimize the long-term effects of UV rays, invest in a pair of sunglasses proven to block between 99 and 100 percent of both types of ultraviolet light.

Always wear a hat when possible to shade your face from the sun. This is just as important for children as it is for adults.

If you wear contacts, get a pair that offers additional protection from UV rays. Always avoid looking directly into the sun. Don’t assume you are safe on a cloudy day. Light passes easily through clouds and is just as dangerous.

Be aware that UV rays are strongest during midday. Try to avoid too much sun exposure at this time of day. Light is also stronger when reflecting off water or snow. Eye protection is important in environments like the beach or the ski slope.

Make Eye Care a Priority

You only get one set of eyes. Taking care of your eyes is a lifelong commitment that will pay off with healthy vision into your old age. Schedule an eye exam with Salt Lake Eye Associates and learn more about the dangers of UV rays.