UV Rays & Your Vision

Sunlight reflected in retina of patient at St. Charles Vision in New Orleans, LA

Spending a sunny day outside could be just what the doctor ordered. Sun exposure has a number of positive health benefits, like improving sleep quality, enhancing the immune system, and boosting serotonin production, which can lift spirits. But before heading to the park, make sure to grab some certified UV protection sunglasses because UV rays pose several serious risks to eye health.

Long-Term and Short-Term Risks

UV-A and UV-B radiation are two different types of ultraviolet light that can impact eye health. At the extreme, these rays could cause a painful condition called “photokeratitis.” Symptoms of this condition include redness, tearing, light sensitivity, and a feeling of grittiness in the eyes. If these symptoms occur, either someone has been slicing onions or they have a painful case of photokeratitis. The good news is that over time the symptoms should pass, and most people recover completely.

When eyes are exposed to radiation in lesser quantities but over an extended time period, a different kind of damage could occur. The two most typical issues resulting from this type of exposure are cataracts and macular degeneration. These issues probably won’t set in until later in life, but who wants to spend their twilight years in the dark?

Other Risk Factors

Geographic location is another factor in the amount of damage that might occur. The closer to the equator, the stronger the sun’s rays are. Altitude and the time of day also determine the strength of rays. While New Orleans is lacking in altitude, it is the northernmost tropical city, meaning compared to other regions of the United States, New Orleans is exposed to more direct and intense UV rays. Also, if surrounding surfaces are especially reflective, the risk of damage increases. Snow and sand might be great for vacationing, but these environments are perfect for big-time UV exposure.

To protect eye health, wear shades outdoors as much as possible. Check labels—sunglasses should be rated to completely block out both UV-A and UV-B rays. Get outside. Stay shady.