There are several factors that contribute to your risk of developing eye problems from Ultraviolet (UV) and high-energy visible (HEV) radiation. These include how much time you spend outdoors, geographic location and even the medicines you take. Despite these risks, there are things you can do protect yourself and loved ones from harmful UV rays.
Anyone who spends time outside is at risk of developing UV related eye problems. UV intensity changes all the time and is dependent on several factors, including:
Geographic location- UV levels tend to be higher in the tropics, the region close to earth’s equator. As such, you have a lower risk if you live in temperate and polar regions, further from the equator.
Altitude- Higher altitude areas experience higher UV levels.
Time of day- UV and HEV are at their highest levels between 10 AM and 2 PM. This is when the sun is at the highest point in the sky.
Setting- UV and HEV are higher in open spaces and on reflective surfaces such as snow and sand. UV rates of exposure are higher in snowy conditions due to reflection. Tall buildings in urban areas block and reflect UV rays resulting in lower exposure rates.
Medications- Some medications such as birth control pills, tetracycline, diuretics, sulfa drugs, and tranquilizers, can potentially increase your UV and HEV sensitivity.
UV levels remain the same even on cloudy or overcast days. UV rays are invisible and clouds don’t block them as they block visible light.
Measuring UV Rays
The Ultraviolet (UV) index is the scale used to measure UV exposure risk in the United States.
This 1 to 11+ scale was developed by the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The UV index score is published daily and special alerts sent out when UV levels will be higher than normal.
Kids are more sensitive to UV rays than adults
UV radiation has a cumulative effect on our skin and eyes. This means that the possibility of damage increases as we continue to spend time outdoors throughout life.
Being mindful of this, it’s important that kids protect their eyes when out in the sun. Kids usually spend a lot more time outside than adults. Experts believe that kids get as much as half of their expected lifetime UV exposure by age 18.
Kids are more likely to experience retinal damage due to UV rays than adults. This is because the lenses in kids’ eyes are usually clearer than that of an adult. This allows UV rays to penetrate deeper, causing more damage.
Good quality photochromic lenses or sunglasses are a must when kids go outdoors. To reduce UV exposure even further, kids should wear hats on sunny days.
Sunglasses to protect from UV and HEV radiation
Always wear quality sunglasses when outside, this will reduce harmful radiation.
Be on the lookout for the right pair as not all sunglasses are created equal. These need to block all UV radiation and absorb most HEV radiation. Sunglasses are usually clearly labeled, but you can also ask your eye care professional to help you choose the right pair.
Wraparound style or large lens sunglasses work best to protect the soft skin surrounding your eyes. Consider sport or performance sunglasses if you do lots of outdoor activities.
Lens color and darkness doesn’t affect how well sunglasses block UV rays.
However, color is important for HEV protection. Reddish-brown, copper or bronze colored lenses work best to block HEV rays.
As with kids, wearing a hat on sunny days will help to reduce your exposure to the sun’s harmful rays.
More helpful tips
There is some misinformation about selecting the right sunglasses. Keep these things in mind:
Sunglasses provide varying levels of UV protection. Ask your eye care professional if they have the equipment needed to measure the amount of UV and HEV radiation the lenses block. Then take your sunglasses to your eye care professional for testing if you are unsure of its UV protection level.
Reddish-brown, copper or bronze colored lenses block the most HEV rays. However, most sunglasses block some portion of HEV radiation.
Wear sunglasses in the shade and on overcast days. Shaded areas reduce exposure to UV and HEV, but your eyes are still exposed to reflected UV rays. Clouds do not block UV rays as it does with visible light.
Wear sunglasses in winter, fresh snow reflects a high proportion of UV radiation. Which increases the risk of snow blindness. If you enjoy skiing or snowboarding, choose UV blocking ski goggles.
Even if you wear UV blocking contacts, sunglasses are still necessary. These contacts shield the portion of the eye directly beneath the contact. UV rays can still damage the surrounding exposed tissues.
Those with darker skin and eyes still need the UV and HEV protection that sunglasses provide. Dark skin offers some degree of UV protection and may lower the odds of developing skin cancer. However, the risk of UV and HEV eye damage is similar to those with lighter skin.
There’s no need to be afraid of sunny days and the outdoors. Protect your eyes and skin to reduce UV and HEV exposure.
Dr. Joseph Cohen O.D.
Woodland Hills Optometrist
Receive an Excellent Service and Comprehensive Eye Care
Providing service in English and Farsi
19737 Ventura Blvd., Suite 201, Woodland Hills, CA 91364