Summary: Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is an invisible form of radiation that can damage your eyesight. Find out more about protecting your eyes from the sun.
What are UV rays?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is made up of invisible rays from the sun. There are three types: UVA, UVB and UVC. You may not be familiar with UVC rays but that is because they are not damaging as they do not reach the earth’s surface.
UVA radiation penetrates deep into the eye, causing eye conditions in later life such as cataracts and macular degeneration. UVB can cause damage to the front of your eye.
Glare and winter sun
Glare is almost always present during the day, even if the sun is not shining. Bright reflections off shiny surfaces like snow or vehicles can subject the eyes to nearly twelve times more light than you need. This causes irritation and discomfort and can also be a dangerous distraction to drivers.
Just because the summer is over doesn’t mean you can put your sunglasses away. The sun’s UV rays are intensified as they are reflected and can damage the surface of your eye.
Who is at risk?
Everyone is at risk of UV damage to their eyesight. Your level of risk will depend on the amount of time you spend in the sun. Those who work in the sun for long spells are at a high risk. People who have had cataract surgery are more at risk of retinal damage from UV rays unless a UV-absorbing intraocular lens was inserted at the time of surgery, while those with retinal disorders may be at greater risk as their retina may be less resistant to UV rays.
How to protect yourself
Protect your eyes when you are on the beach, boating, skiing or snowboarding. UV rays are higher during midday hours, from 10am to 3pm, and during the summer months.
- Limit the time you spend in the sun during midday hours.
- If outdoors, find shaded areas.
- Choose sunglasses that fit you well and offer an effective UV filter (100 per cent). Read the label carefully and look out for the CE mark, which is an approved European standard. Most UV-filtered sunglasses are now inexpensive and the level of UV filtration should not influence the price.
- Wraparound sunglasses will reduce the amount of rays entering the eye; up to 35 per cent of UV rays can penetrate standard spectacle frames.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat as well, which will block about 50 per cent of UV rays.
Children are most at risk of photokeratitis, sunburn to the cornea that can lead to temporary vision loss. Photokeratitis is usually caused by over-exposure to sunlight reflection off beaches and ski slopes.
Consider the following guidelines when choosing sunglasses for your child:
- Ensure that they fit snugly against the bridge of the child’s nose.
- Look for wraparound glasses with 100 per cent UV protection.
- Lenses should be secure so they will not pop out of the frames.
- The frames should be bendable, unbreakable and impact resistant.
- Lenses should be made of a resistant material called polycarbonate, unless otherwise recommended by an eye specialist.
Good protection from the sun does not mean that you have to buy expensive sunglasses. Speak to your chemist or optician for more information about choosing a pair of sunglasses that offer the best protection.