UV Index and Eye Safety

Before stepping into the summer sun, we often think about taking steps to protect our skin from damage from UV rays, but that’s not the only place that needs protection. Our eyes can also be damaged by strong UV rays. On Health Happens, our weekly Facebook Live show, we talked to Dr. Stacey Spaulding, an optometrist at Bryan Vision Associates to talk about the UV Index and protecting our eyes.

The UV Index

According to the EPA, the UV Index is a forecast of the expected risk of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun. The index ranks exposure levels on a scale from low to extreme. Each exposure level on the scale comes with recommendations on protection. The types of recommended protection range from using SPF, to avoiding being in the sun during the hottest part of the day. You can learn more about the UV Index here.

According to Dr. Spaulding, “UV has two components that affect our eye health. UV-A and UV-B both reach the eye tissue. Damage can be external and internal.” UV-A rays can hurt your central vision by damaging a part of the retina called the macula at the back of your eye. UV-B rays may cause even more damage than UV-A rays as they are absorbed through the cornea and lens.

Did you know that your eyes can get sunburned?

Prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays can increase the risk of eye damage. Photokeratitis, commonly known as snow blindness, is like a sunburn to your eye. It is caused by the sun’s reflection from snow, but it can occur in the summer months from the sun’s reflection in sand or water.

Common symptoms of photokeratitis include pain, redness, decreased vision, or a sandy feeling in your eye. Dr. Spaulding explained that the most common treatment for photokeratitis is artificial tears, but more severe cases may be treated with topical steroid medication.

Protecting yourself from UV rays

Individuals with light-colored eyes tend to be more sensitive to UV rays. Children are also at risk for eye damage because they have larger pupils and tend to spend more time outside, but everyone can benefit from protecting against UV damage. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Wear sunglasses or glasses with clear lenses that offer 100% UV-A/UV-B protection
  • Use sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply
  • Wear a hat with a large brim
  • Use artificial tears on windy or dry days

“The thing about Colorado is that you really need protection year-round,” Dr. Spaulding says. Eye damage doesn’t just happen in the summertime. UV rays can cause macular degeneration, cataracts, pterygium, and even skin cancer. To protect your eyes from UV rays, eye doctors recommend wearing quality sunglasses that offer good protection. Your sunglasses should:

  • Block 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation
  • Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
  • Be free of distortion and imperfection

To watch the full Health Happens episode on the UV Index and eye safety, click here.

This post was written by 9Health Fair intern Alexia Moses

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