Although the temperature is becoming cooler, days are shorter, and the sunlight is not as direct, don’t stash away those fashionable sunglasses because they are needed in the fall and winter. UV light can be reflected on cloudy days, by water, and by snow. Ultraviolent (UV) light is still present in the sun’s rays during all times of the year. There are two types of UV light that are important to the eyes: UV-A and UV-B. UV-B light has a shorter wavelength and higher energy. This light is thought to cause more damage to the front of the eye and skin. UV-A has a longer wavelength and is not as high energy has UV-B, but can also cause damage and may penetrate to the back of the eye. UV light damages the eyes by causing premature aging and skin cancers on the delicate skin surrounding the eye, cataracts and pterygium to develop, may contribute to age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Yes your eyes can tell your age. UV light can cause premature wrinkling also known as “crow’s feet” around the eyes. Aging and wrinkling of the skin causes you to look more tired and older than you really are. More importantly, UV light can cause certain skin cancers. The two top cancers that develop around the eye are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. If detected early, both are treatable. However, if not, the removal can cause disfiguration and if left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can be fatal.
The majority of UV light is absorbed by the front structures of the eye. The lens is very susceptible to the effects of UV light. Over time the lens becomes hazy. This is known as cataracts. The outer part of the eye can develop pterygium which occurs when excess tissue grows on the conjunctiva. Depending on your location, pterygium can grow into the cornea and obstruct vision.
A small amount of UV light can reach the retina, which is located in the back of the eye. Some studies suggest that UV light may cause age-related macular degeneration. The macula is the most sensitive area of vision and is the central area of vision. Macular degeneration is a degradation of this area; and therefore, causes central vision loss.
The best way to prevent damage from the sun is to wear hats with wide brims, apply sunscreen to the face (avoiding the eyes), and wear sunglasses that protect from UV-A and UV-B light. All of these preventative measures should be started as children. It is important to develop healthy habits early in order to prevent long term damage to the eyes.