Protecting Your Eyes from UV Radiation

The sun supports all life on our planet, but its life-giving rays also pose dangers. The sun’s primary danger is in the form of Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is a component of solar radiation, but it can also be given off by artificial sources like welding machines, tanning beds and lasers.

Most of us are aware of the harm UV radiation can do to the skin, but many may not realize that exposure to UV radiation can harm the eyes or that other components of solar radiation can also affect vision.

There are three types of UV radiation: UV-C is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not present any threat; UV-A and UV-B radiation can have adverse long- and short-term effects on the eyes and vision.

If your eyes are exposed to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time, you are likely to experience an effect called photokeratitis. Like a “sunburn of the eye”, photokeratitis may be painful and include symptoms such as red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing. Fortunately, this is usually temporary and rarely causes permanent damage to the eyes.

Long-term exposure to UV radiation, however, can be more serious. Scientific studies and research have shown that exposure to small amounts of UV radiation over a period of many years increases the chance of developing a cataract and may cause damage to the retina, a nerve-rich lining of the eye that is used for seeing. Additionally, chronic exposure to shorter wavelength visible light (i.e. blue and violet light) may also be harmful to the retina.

The longer the eyes are exposed to solar radiation, the greater the risk of developing later in life such conditions as cataracts or macular degeneration. Since it is not clear how much exposure to solar radiation will cause damage, we recommend wearing quality sunglasses that offer UV protection and wearing a hat or cap with a wide brim whenever you spend time outdoors. Also, certain contact lenses can provide additional UV protection.

To provide adequate protection for your eyes, sunglasses should:

  • block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation;
  • screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light;
  • be perfectly matched in colour and free of distortion and imperfection;

The lenses in sunglasses should be made from polycarbonate material if you participate in potentially eye-hazardous work or sports. These lenses provide the most impact resistance. If you spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight, wrap around frames can provide additional protection from the harmful solar radiation. Don’t forget protection for children and teenagers. They typically spend more time in the sun than adults.

How to protect your eyes from the sun?

Follow the advice below to protect your eyes from the sun and to help keep your eyes and vision healthy for as long as possible.

Choose your sunglasses wisely

Splashing out on expensive designer sunglasses won’t automatically protect your eyes. Sunglasses labelled UV400 offer the best protection because they block out even the tiniest UV rays. Choose large lenses and a wraparound style to protect as much of your eyes as possible. Maui Jim, Costa Del Mar, Oakley, Ray Ban, Adidas, Nike, Zeal Optics all offer fantastic protection from UV protection. They offer a variety of lens materials suitable for different needs, variety of tints and coatings for specific sports and functions and huge array of frame styles. Polarised lenses may also be beneficial in conditions high in reflected light and glare such as near water, sand or snow.

Consider photochromic or Transition spectacle lenses

Transition lenses (photochromic lenses) change effortlessly and automatically from perfectly clear lenses when indoors, to ideal sun protection when outdoors. Using a transition lenses couldn’t be simpler, but the technology behind them is anything but simple. A complex formula of photochromic molecules make light, dark and every shade in between possible. Transition lenses are designed to be worn all day long, outdoors and indoors. And you can get them in virtually every frame, style, size and prescription. They are also great for children. They don’t just make everything look great, they also reduce eye fatigue and strain while blocking 100% of UVA / UVB light.

Transition signature lenses do not work well behind glass as they react to UV light, most modern windows and windscreens will filter out the majority of UV light. With this in mind Transition Xtractive lenses and specialised Drive Wear Transitions will work behind glass and are ideal for driving.

Consider Polarised Lenses

Polarised Lenses

Polarised lenses are popular with skiers, pilots and water sports enthusiasts. However these special lenses are also an excellent option for virtually everyone. Polarised lenses eliminate light reflections and mirror images as the sun’s rays hit reflective surfaces such as a wet road, water or metal surfaces. Such conditions cause our eyes to constantly adjust to changing light conditions and thus cause eye fatigue. Wearing polarised lenses protects us from such conditions and offers more relaxed clearer vision.

Natural light is unpolarised light that vibrates in every direction. However, when light hits a smooth surface as discussed it reflects and becomes polarised. The reflection creates an unpleasant blinding effect we refer to as glare. Polarised lenses filter light reflected vertically thus blocking the polarised light. As a result hazardous reflections from water surfaces and wet streets are almost completely eliminated and also offer 100% UV protection. Polarised lenses are therefore safer, more comfortable and offer clearer more improved contrast and fantastically vibrant colours.

Wear UV blocking contact lenses

Even good quality sunglasses let in the sun around their rim. Contact lenses with UV blocking filters sit over the cornea and lens of your eyes to give them additional protection. For the best protection wear wraparound sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat too.

Not all contact lenses have inbuilt UV protection. However, we generally recommend contact lenses that have UV blocking filters embedded into the lens to help protect your eyes from the transmission of the sun’s harmful rays.

Wear a hat

A wide-brimmed hat will provide added protection for your eyes. It will also help protect your face and chest from sun damage and prevent sunstroke.

Beware of reflected light

Light reflecting off sand, snow or water intensifies sun exposure. Make a special effort to protect your eyes if you are on a beach, skiing, close to water or at a high altitude.

Take note of the time of day

The sun is at its strongest between 10am and 2pm. However, research has found that your eyes are most at risk from sun damage during mid-morning and late afternoon. Try to protect your eyes at all times throughout the day.

Whatever the weather

Most of us take precautions to protect our eyes on sunny days, but UV rays can damage our eyes on cloudy days too. It is therefore important to protect your eyes from UV exposure all the time.

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