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Looking After Your Eyes in the Sun

Don’t put your kids and family in the shade this Summer, put them behind Shades

Summer Sun brings with it risks, especially for the young

It’s a strange conundrum that watching families in the great outdoors we are used to the sight of Mums & Dads wearing their latest design RayBans or other fashion sunspecs, busily slapping sun block and lotions on their kids and making sure they are reasonably covered away from the harmful sunrays.  But how many of those well oiled kids and teenagers do you see wearing sunglasses?

ZoobugVery few I venture.  As we get older, partly because of the sunlight we have received passing through our eyes, our cornea (the outer transparent layer) and our lens (inside the eye) lose their transparency.  This means less light is transmitted to the back of the eye.

Just reverse that thinking and consider how much light a young toddler receives through his or her crystal clear young eyes. Because of this fact your child before reaching adulthood will have received 85% of all the light on the retina that he will have received in a lifetime.

So protecting the young from an early age from the now known harmful effects of radiation from sunlight will have a much greater beneficial affect in reducing the damage to their eyes in later life.
Of course we need the sun block but let’s not penny pinch on buying UVA/UVB sun protection sunglasses for our children.

Most of us these days are aware of the dangerous effects ultraviolet (UV) rays have on our skin, but few of us realize the danger imposed on our eyes. UV radiation, whether from natural sunlight or artificial UV rays, can damage the eye's surface tissues as well as the cornea and lens. UV radiation can also burn the front surface of the eye (the white sclera), much like a sunburn on the skin.

UV Radiation

UV radiation consists of invisible rays from the sun. There are three types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC. (UVC rays do not pose any threat, as they are absorbed by the ozone layer), exposure to UVA and UVB rays can have deleterious effects on your eyes and vision.

Lee CooperDon’t forget that UV radiation can also be emitted by artificial sources like welding machines, tanning beds and lasers.

If you are exposed to excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time, you are likely to experience an effect called.  Photokeratitis is a painful inflammation of the cornea caused by a brief exposure to UV radiation, often seen after skiing or when poorly protected using welding machinery. Symptoms including red eyes or a feeling of grittiness in the eye on blinking, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing often occur soon after the event.

But what are the long-term effects of UV Radiation

Scientific studies and research published around the world including studies from the World Health Organisation as well as information that has evolved from the U.S. space program have shown that exposure to small amounts of UV radiation over a period of many years can increase the chance of developing a cataract and may cause damage to the retina, the sensitive nervous layer at the back of the eye that allows us to see clearly and sends information to the brain.

Damage to the retina is not usually reversible. Over a period of time repeated exposure may contribute to chronic eye disease, as well as increase the risk of developing skin cancer around the eyelids.

Often seen in those with outdoor careers (farmers, road workers and golfers) long-term exposure to UV light produces the development of pterygium (a growth of thickened skin that invades from the corner of the eyes) and pinguecula (a yellowish, slightly raised bump on the sclera that is very noticeable because it forms on the surface tissue of the white part of your eye.)

Sandy beaches, concrete roads, water and lakes as well as snow scenes reflect the highest amount of radiation adding to the normal light passing into your eyes.  Going abroad? Then nearing the equator and higher altitudes will increase the radiation content.

UV Radiation Protection

It is not yet known how much exposure to UV radiation will cause how much damage, but a good recommendation is to wear quality sunglasses that offer good protection and a wide-brimmed hat when working outdoors, participating in outdoor sports, taking a walk, or doing anything in the sun.  If you wear prescription eyewear ensure your lenses are UVA/UVB protected and consider the new wrap around lenses in your sports and sun wear. Sunglasses with side protection can block harmful UV light from entering from the sides and back of the frame.

Just as with specs you can have UV protection included in your contact lenses but remember the small soft and GP lenses cover a small amount of the cornea and do not protect large parts of the cornea or the sclera, nor your eye lids and skin around the eye. This area is a common site for skin cancers. Your eyes will be more comfortable, too, with most of the bright light blocked.

To provide protection for your eyes, your sunglasses should:

• Block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation. Look for shades labelled ''UV 400'', which indicates that they block all light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometres (which includes both UVA and UVB rays)
• Look for glasses carrying the 'CE' mark and the British Standard BS EN 1836:2005, which ensures that the sunglasses offer a safe level of ultraviolet protection.
• screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
• be perfectly matched in colour and free of distortion and imperfection
• Have lenses that are either grey for proper colour recognition in normal use or tinted to highlight different objects and backgrounds for specific sports.

UV eye protection for children and teenagers is very important as they typically spend more time in the sun than adults.

Don’t take our word for it these stats are provided by the World Health Organisation:

• Worldwide approximately 18 million people are blind as a result of cataracts; of these 5% of all cataract-related disease burden is directly attributable to UV radiation exposure.
• Sun protection is recommended when the ultraviolet index is 3 and above.
• Cloud cover: UV radiation levels are highest under cloudless skies but even with cloud cover, they can be high.
• Altitude: UV levels increase by about 5% with every 1000 metres altitude.
• Ozone: ozone absorbs some of the UV radiation from the sun. As the ozone layer is depleted, more UV radiation reaches the Earth's surface.
• Ground reflection: many surfaces reflect the sun’s rays and add to the overall UV exposure (e.g. grass, soil and water reflect less than 10% of UV radiation; fresh snow reflects up to 80%; dry beach sand reflects 15%, and sea foam reflects 25%).

Small amounts of UV radiation are beneficial to health, and play an essential role in the production of vitamin D. However, excessive exposure to UV radiation is associated with different types of skin cancer, sunburn, accelerated skin ageing, cataract and other eye diseases. There is also evidence that UV radiation reduces the effectiveness of the immune system.

And remember:

Protect your eyes from the sun

Never look at the sun directly, even when something exciting is happening, such as an eclipse. Doing so can cause irreversible damage to your eyesight and even lead to blindness.

Images from top to bottom are: Zoobug, Lee Cooper, Bench, Zoobug, Lee Cooper

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