Most of us are aware that UV exposure to our skin can lead to sunburn and, ultimately, skin cancer. Medical evidence shows that our eyes can also suffer from sunburn, which can lead to a number of problems in the long term including cataracts, pterygia, macular degeneration and melanomas. In the short term UV radiation can also ‘burn’ or damage the front of the eye.
Cataracts are cloudiness in the lens of the eye and poor vision results as the cloudiness interferes with the light entering the eye. A pterygium is a triangular shaped lump of tissue which grows on the conjunctiva (the front of the eye). If the pterygium grows so bit it reaches the pupil it will cause poor vision. Macular degeneration causes progressive damage to the macula (the central part of the retina at the back of the eye). This will result in loss of central vision, which means a loss of ability to read, recognise faces, drive and see colours clearly.
Avoiding UV damage to your eyes is quite simple. Avoid the sun in the middle of the day. Wearing a broad brimmed hat will reduce the amount of UV radiation reaching your eyes by half. A good pair of sunglasses will also reduce the amount of UV radiation from reaching your eyes. It is a good idea to start UV protection early, and children should start wearing sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen as young as possible.
All sunglasses on sale in Australia must meet an Australian Standard that specifies how much UV radiation the sunglasses must block. They should have a tag stating that they meet AS 1067 and specify whether they are general purpose or specific purpose sunglasses. The general purpose sunglass lenses are designed for everyday UV protection. The specific purpose sunglass lenses are designed for people who are exposed to high levels of UV radiation.