Virtually everyone receives at least some UV exposure on a daily basis. Long-term sun exposures to healthy eyesight are rarely thought about to a point where many take little action to protect their eyes. No action is taken even when planning to be out in the sun for an extended period of time. The reality is, UV overexposure is dangerous, cannot be reversed and can lead to a number of serious, sight-stealing diseases down the road.
On a molecular level, UV can be highly toxic, breaking up healthy cells in the human body and causing the formation of new ones that can be harmful to the immune system. Through a chemical reaction, UV rays can also cause free radicals in the body, which can destroy healthy cell tissues in the body and in the eye. Although only small amounts of UVA and UVB light reach the inner eye, around one percent, the ocular tissues are extremely susceptible to their damaging effects, making these amounts clinically significant. Intense, short-term exposure can lead to sunburn of the eye, or photokeratitis. This occurs when UVB rays are absorbed by the cornea, destroying the outer cells and leading to pain, blurred vision or even temporary blindness. UVA rays are mostly absorbed by the crystalline lens, and can penetrate much deeper into the eye, causing damage to the retina. Over time, exposure to UV rays can lead to significant and lasting damage to the eye and vision
Children are an important focus for eye health education, particularly with regard to UV protection. First, a child’s eye is still developing. The crystalline lenses of young children under the age of 10 have not yet matured, and are therefore more vulnerable to UV damage. Additionally, UV damage is cumulative and cannot be reversed over time. Research has shown that increased exposure to UV rays in childhood can lead to higher risk of cataract and other problems in adult years. Studies also reinforce that kids spend more time outdoors than adults, getting three times the annual sun exposure.