Many people are aware that ultraviolet radiation (UV) can cause sunburn and skin cancer, but did you also know it can harm your eyes? Protecting your eyes from UV radiation is just as important as putting sunscreen on your skin. Extended exposure has been linked to eye damage including; cataracts, macular degeneration, pingueculae (small yellowish bumps on the white of the eye), pterygia (opaque growth over the surface of the cornea) and photokeratitis (sunburn of the cornea).
Exposure to UV light is cumulative; meaning direct contact with sunlight for even short periods of time can cause several long term eye health problems. Anyone who spends time outdoors is at risk for eye problems from UV radiation. Children are at greatest risk because they spend more time outdoors than the average adult and the crystalline lens in their eye has less capability to absorb UV light.
Clear, UV blocking coatings are available on all spectacle lenses. If you want protection from UV rays and comfort from glare and brightness, tinted or polarized glasses work best. Some options include permanently tinted sunglasses or photochromatic lenses which get darker when exposed to UV light but also offer UV protection when clear. Some other options are clip on sunglass lenses which fit over your regular glasses. Not all sunglasses block 100% of UV rays, so it is important to ensure your lenses provide 100% UVA and UVB protection. Some contact lenses also block UV rays, however you still need sunglasses as it only blocks UV light on part of your eye, leaving the white of your eye (conjunctiva) exposed. In addition to UV blocking lenses, baseball caps and wide-brimmed hats also provide further protection.