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How to Protect Your Eyes from UV Damage

How to Protect Your Eyes from UV Damage

Did you know wearing sun glasses is just as important as wearing a hat to protect against UV rays? July is UV Safety Awareness Month and Irene Kuo, associate professor of ophthalmology with the Wilmer Eye Institute, shares some helpful tips to prevent UV light exposure and how to protect your eyes from damage.

1. UV light is damaging to almost ALL ocular structures including the eyelid. In general, it is best to avoid outdoor activities between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when sunlight is strongest. One can even get sunburn on a foggy day. Wearing sunglasses with adequate protection against UV (both large in frame and with a wraparound protection or side protection) is just as important as wearing a hat with a wide brim. 

2. UV light ages all structures of the eye. Corneal damage, cataracts and macular degeneration are all possible chronic effects from UV exposure and can ultimately lead to decreased vision. 

3. The eyelid skin is the thinnest of the whole body. UV damage induces dryness, wrinkles, accentuated skin furrows, sagging, loss of elasticity and mottled pigmentation. UV light is associated with skin cancers including squamous cell carcinomas, basal cell carcinomas, and cutaneous melanoma. Squamous cell carcinoma can occur not just on the skin, but on the conjunctiva and invade the cornea and inside of the eye, in some cases necessitating removal of the entire eye. 

4. The front surface of the eye absorbs 99 percent of the UV radiation. On the surface of the eye, this UV damage predisposes to cancerous growths, as well as noncancerous growths like pterygium and pinguecula. Damage to the cornea can occur when UV light is reflected off the water, like when you’re engaging in water sports or skiing. 

5. Sunlight exposure and UV exposure have been found to be associated with cataract. This damage is irreversible. The only treatment for cataract that is affecting activities of daily living is surgery. 

6. Oxidative stress and cumulative UV damage are of importance in development of age-related macular degeneration, the major cause of blindness in Americans over age 55, for which there is no cure. 

7. Then there is the damage when people stare directly at the sun, either during an eclipse or at other times. This damage to the retina can lead to permanent decreased quality of vision. 

8. Therefore, wear sun protection for your skin and for your eyes any time you are at the highest risk for UV damage. 

Irene C. Kuo, M.D. 
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology 
Cornea, Cataract, Anterior Segment and Refractive Surgery 
Wilmer Eye Institution, Johns Hopkins Medicine 
Chief, Wilmer-White Marsh 

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