Virtually everyone is exposed to UV rays on a daily basis. Even though this is the case, the possible risks of years of exposure to these unsafe rays are not often considered, to a point where the majority of people barely take enough action to protect their eyes, even when they're planning on being outside for long periods of time. UV overexposure is dangerous and irreversible, and can also result in several serious, sight-stealing diseases later on in life. Therefore, ongoing protection from UV rays is equally important for everybody.
There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB, and both are unsafe. Although only tiny measures of UVA and UVB light reach the inner eye, the ocular cells are extremely susceptible to the damaging effects of their rays. Small amounts of this kind of exposure can easily cause sunburned eyes, or photokeratitis. Journalist Anderson Cooper recently went through a painful episode of photokeratitis. When UVB rays enter the cornea, the outer cells are significantly damaged, and this can be expressed as pain, blurred vision or in serious cases, even temporary blindness. UVA rays actually enter the eye more deeply, causing harm to the retina. Cataracts are the most well known result of long-term exposure to UV rays.
A really great way to guard your eyes from UV rays is by wearing quality eyewear. Check that your sunglasses or regular eyewear block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Wearing an insufficient pair of sunglasses can be more harmful than having no sun protection at all. Think about it this way: if sunglasses offer no UV protection, it means you're actually being exposed to more UV rays. Such sunglasses will block some of the light, which causes your iris to open and let more light in. This means that more UV will reach your retina. It's important to check that your sunglasses offer effective UV protection.
Long-term exposure to UV rays can also result in an abnormal tissue growth on the eye, known as pterygium. This is a narrow, wedge-shaped tissue growth with blood vessels that spread over the white part of the eye's surface. In addition to being cosmetically unappealing, a pterygium can cause discomfort, and can even alter the curve of the eyeball, which will cause astigmatism. If the pterygium begins to grow over the cornea, it can damage vision and may need to be surgically removed. Because pterygia are caused by long-term UV exposure and windy conditions, it's largely preventable.
Talk to your optometrist about the various UV protection choices, which include photochromic lenses, polarized lenses and fixed tint sunglasses.