It's safe to assume that almost everybody is exposed to UV rays on a regular basis. Even though this is the case, the potential risks of long-term exposure to these harsh rays are not often thought through, to a point where most people take little action to guard their eyes, even when they're expecting to be exposed to the sun for many hours. UV overexposure is unsafe and irreversible, and can result in more than a few serious, sight-stealing diseases down the road. And so, continuing protection from UV rays is a must for everyone.
UV radiation, which originates mostly from the sun, is made up of 2 sorts of harmful rays: UV-A and UV-B. Although only minimal measures of UVA and UVB light reach the inner eye, the ocular tissue is incredibly receptive to the dangerous effects of their rays. Even in the short term, small amounts of exposure may lead to sunburnt eyes, also known as photokeratitis. When the cornea receives UVB rays, the outer cells are significantly damaged, and this can be expressed as pain, blurred vision or even temporary blindness. UVA rays actually penetrate much deeper into the eye, which causes damage to the retina. Out of the 20 million people who suffer from cataracts, about 20 percent of cases are due to extended exposure to UV rays.
One of the best ways to protect your eyes from UV rays is through the use of high quality eyewear. Be sure that your sunglasses or prescription glasses block both UVA and UVB rays completely. Wearing an inadequate pair of sunglasses can actually be worse than using no sunglasses at all. Consider this: when sunglasses don't give you any UV protection, it means you're actually being exposed to more UV rays. The inadequate sunglasses tend to block some of the light, which causes the iris to open and allow more light in. This means that more UV will reach your retina. It's important to check that your sunglasses offer enough protection against UV.
Long-term exposure to UV rays can also lead to an abnormal tissue growth on the eye, which is called 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 affect the shape of the eyeball, causing astigmatism. If the pterygium starts to grow over the cornea, it can damage vision and may require surgery. Because pterygia are the result of long-term UV exposure and windy conditions, it is entirely preventable.
Talk to your optometrist about all the different UV protection options, including, but not limited to, adaptive lenses, polarized lenses and fixed tint sunglasses.