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Tennesseans Reminded To Practice Sun Safety

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Bright sunny days are a hallmark of summer and may beckon you outdoors, but the Tennessee Department of Health reminds everyone to take precautions to protect themselves from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.

“While most people are familiar with the need to use sunblock to protect skin from sunburn, they may not know that ultraviolet rays can also be damaging to our eyes,” said Commissioner of Health Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN. “We’re working to make people aware that the sun can harm our eyes, but that simple steps can help keep us safe from these problems.”

The Department of Health is joining the national observance of UV Safety Month. This national health observance was created by the American Academy of Ophthalmology to educate people about the need to protect their eyes from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays from the sun.

There are two types of ultraviolet rays, commonly known as UV-A and UV-B. These invisible, high energy rays from the sun can damage skin and eyes. Using protective measures against UV rays is especially important during summer months, when the level of ultraviolet radiation is three times greater than in winter.

“Prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays without protection can cause eye conditions that can lead to vision loss, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration,” said Veronica Gunn, MD, chief medical officer for the Department of Health.

Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat are the best defense system to protect your eyes against sunlight and its harmful UV rays. To be effective, both should be worn every time you’re outside for prolonged periods of time, even when skies are overcast.

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Sunglasses should be designed to block 99 to 100 percent of the UV-A and UV-B rays. The ability to block UV light is not dependent on the darkness of sunglass lenses, and price is not indicative of the level of UV protection. Consumers can check sunglass labels for information about the amount of UV protection the glasses offer.

As with skin, eyes should be protected from damage from repeated sun exposure over time, as well as acute damage that can be caused by a single day in the sun. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light reflected off sand, snow, water or pavement can burn the eye’s surface. While eye surface burns usually disappear within a couple of days, they can lead to further complications later in life.

The following tips can also help people protect both their eyes and skin from sun damage:

* Try to avoid being out in the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. UV rays are strongest and do the most damage during midday hours.

* Cover up with clothing. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face, head, ears and neck.

* Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays as possible.

* Use sunblock with sun protective factor 15 or higher and both UV-A and UV-B protection.



Your article advises readers to rely on UV protection to reduce the risks of sunlight-related macular degeneration. This is not correct. UV is not a factor in macular degeneration in the adult eye because it is filtered by the ocular lens and its ocular lens pigment (OLP) before it reaches the retina where the macula is located. Visible light does reach the retina, and among the wavelengths that the eye associates with color, it is the higher energy visible (violet and blue) that increase the risks of macular degeneration. Good sunglasses should eliminate all of the UV to reduce the risks of cataracts; but they should also reduce the levels of HEV (high energy visible) light - to reduce the risks of macular degeneration. Children are at particular risk from early damage to the retina because their lens does not yet have the age-related OLP. And seniors who have had a cataract operation are at risk when the HEV-protecting OLP is removed along with their cataract lens – especially at a time when the anti-oxidant system located near their retina is compromised because of age. Jim Gallas, Ph.D.