UV Light Protection and Your Eyes


October 8, 2023

No matter what season it is, whether you’re on vacation or taking a walk around your neighborhood, we all love to soak up the sun. The sun is 93 million miles away, however light from the sun takes about 8 minutes to reach Earth. The light rays from the sun that reach Earth are known as solar radiation, which is composed of visible light, ultraviolet light, infrared light, radio waves, X-rays, and gamma rays. With significant exposure, almost all of the electromagnetic spectrum may cause damage to your eyes. However, it’s widely reported that ultraviolet (UV) radiation is known to cause damage to the eyes.

Ultraviolet radiation is made up of UVA (315-400 nm), UVB (280-315 nm), and UVC (100-280 nm). The ozone layer absorbs UVC and most UVB rays, leaving UVA and some UVB rays to reach us on Earth.

Natural sources of UV light:

  • The sun

Artificial sources of UV light:

  • Tanning beds
  • Some lasers
  • Some lamps (halogen, fluorescent, and incandescent lights)

A benefit of UV radiation includes the production of vitamin D in the skin. In addition, exposure to sunlight has been associated with regulating our sleep cycles, improved mood, and increased energy levels. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation may cause premature aging, skin cancer, and sunburn. Also, some oral and topical medicines may cause additional sensitivity if you’re exposed to UV radiation.

It is common knowledge that UV radiation may damage the skin, but did you know that both short-term and long-term exposure to UV radiation can cause damage to your eyes? Here are some of the effects of UV radiation exposure on your eyes.

Cataracts, a clouding of the natural lens in the eye, are the leading cause of blindness in the world. UV exposure increases the rate of cataract development, as it is known that people who spend more time outdoors or live closer to the equator develop more advanced cataracts.

Pterygium is a triangular-shaped growth of the conjunctiva, which can lead to irritation, cosmetic concerns, and visual impairment as it encroaches on the cornea. Long-term exposure to UV radiation is the main cause of pterygiums.

Macular degeneration is a disease that affects the central vision, may be related to chronic UV light exposure, and is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans aged 65 years or older. Other risk factors of macular degeneration include genetics, smoking, hypertension, and eating a diet high in saturated fat.

Eyelid or conjunctival cancer: UV radiation is linked to both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Photokeratitis is related to sudden exposure to UV radiation, which can damage the cornea, the clear outer layer of the front of the eye, and lead to eye pain, vision loss, and light sensitivity. This condition is most often related to highly reflective surfaces like snow, water, ice, or sand. Think of photokeratitis like a sunburn but on the eye.

It is important to protect yourself from harmful radiation. Here are a few tips to reduce your risk of UV radiation:

  • Enjoy the outdoors when it’s safer. You should consider the time of day, altitude, latitude, season, reflection of the sun (i.e., water and snow), and/or medications you may be taking.
  • Wear UV-blocking eyewear, such as contact lenses, clear glasses, or sunglasses to reduce your exposure to UV radiation. Most contact lenses and glasses have UV block properties that filter most UV radiation.
  • Wear a hat. A wide-brimmed hat can protect the eyes, face, and neck from the effects of UV radiation.
  • Don’t forget to protect your children’s eyes. Children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV radiation and should wear UV-blocking glasses and hats when outdoors.
  • Yearly comprehensive eye examinations including a dilated eye examination are important for promoting and monitoring your eye health.

– By Farah O. Gulaid, OD, FAAO | Optometrist, Asst. Professor | Source- WebMd