UV Safety Awareness Month (July)
For most people, protection from the sun during the summer means a whole lot of SPF 30 and maybe a t-shirt over their bathing suit, but there is another important organ that needs to be considered during your fun in the sun. Every time you step outside, you are putting your eyes at risk for many sun-related injuries and diseases. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of these potential dangers, so the American Academy of Ophthalmology has designated July "UV Safety Awareness Month."
Extended sun exposure creates the possibility for many negative health effects in the eye, such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and growths on the eye, including cancer. The sun's effects are primarily related to the ultraviolet rays it produces. These ultra violet rays, specifically the ones called UV-B rays - which cause the most damage to the human body, are an invisible form of radiation and are able to penetrate human tissue and cause harm. UV rays are responsible for 90% of tissue damage – to both the skin and the eyes. The areas of the eye that are usually damaged include the surface tissue, the cornea and the lens. There is also the possibility of cosmetic changes to the eye, including tumors and lesions to the sclera (the white part of the eye) which may require surgical treatment and/or removal.
The sun is not the only culprit as far as UV damage to the eye is concerned. Tanning beds are continuing to be used at a very high rate and deserve equal blame for tissue damage. "Tanning beds can produce UV levels up to 100 times what you would get from the sun, which can cause very serious damage to the external and internal structures of the eye and eyelids," according to Dr. Kutryb, MD, ophthalmologist in Edgewater, Florida and clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "Corneal burns, cataracts, and, in rare instances, retinal damage can occur." It should also be noted that UV safety is not an issue only during the summer months; this is simply the time when the most sun exposure occurs. Effective eye protection is something that should be practiced year-round!
Guarding your eyes against harmful UV rays is not difficult. The easiest solution is something that most people already practice – the use of sunglasses. The key is to find sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection; glasses in a wrap-around style are also important, so that UV rays cannot enter from the side. If sunglasses are your preferred method of protection, remember that it is especially important to wear them in the early afternoon and when travelling at higher altitudes, where UV light is most intense. Hats with a wide brim are also an effective form of UV protection. There are some contacts that offer UV protection, but that is limited and should be used in combination with other forms of defense against UV rays.
A few other precautions to take so as to best promote good eye health include limiting time outside between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., when UV rays are at their highest intensity, and being sure to never look directly into the sun. Extra precautions should be taken when spending an increased amount of time near water or pavement because they both have increased reflective abilities that can cause more damage than other surfaces. For those who choose to use tanning beds, it is critical to wear protective goggles in an effort to decrease damage. Finally, children should be taught proper eye care at an early age so that they are able to carry it with them throughout life.
When you are outside this summer, whether it be at the beach, the ballpark or just playing in the backyard, don't forget to shield your eyes! If you are interested in finding more information on this subject and other eye health issues, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology online: http://www.aao.org/ or http://www.aao.org/eye-health.
Information provided by Emily McDevitt, Intern with Community Outreach.