UV Protection For Eyes Especially Important During Summer Months

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Ultraviolet (UV) protection is a concern for many Americans, particularly in the spring and summer months, but most people are thinking about their skin, not their eyes. The American Optometric Association (AOA) warns that prolonged exposure to the sun's UV rays and short wavelength light (violet and blue light) without proper protection may cause eye conditions that can lead to a variety of vision disorders.

According to the AOA's 2007 American Eye-Q survey, which identified Americans' attitudes and behaviors regarding eye care and related issues, 40 percent of Americans do not think UV protection is an important factor to consider when purchasing sunglasses.

"Just as skin is 'burned' by UV radiation the eye can also suffer damage," said Gregory Good, OD, Ph.D., member of AOA's Commission on Ophthalmic Standards. "The lesson -- especially for young people -- is that eyes need protection, too. Protection can be achieved by simple, safe, and inexpensive methods such as wearing a brimmed hat and using eyewear that properly absorbs UV radiation."

Overexposure to UV rays has been linked to age-related cataracts, pterygium, photokeratitis and corneal degenerative changes, the AOA said. These conditions can cause blurred vision, irritation, redness, tearing, temporary vision loss and, in some instances, blindness. And, while the correlation is still unclear, there appears to be a link between excessive summer sun exposure and retinal pigmentation.

The AOA cautions that the effects of sunlight exposure are cumulative; therefore, individuals whose work or recreational activities involve lengthy exposure to sunlight are at the greatest risk. UV radiation reflects off surfaces such as snow, water and white sand, so the risk is particularly high for people on beaches, boats or ski slopes. The risk for serious damage is greatest during the mid-day hours, generally from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and during summer months.

Children and teenagers are particularly susceptible to the sun's damaging rays because they typically spend more time outdoors than adults, and the lenses of their eyes are more transparent than those of adults. The transparent lenses allow more short wavelength light to reach the retina of the eye.

The effects of UV radiation are cumulative, so it's important to develop good protection habits early in life, such as wearing sunglasses with UV protection. The American Eye-Q survey showed that 61 percent of Americans buy sunglasses for their children, but 23 percent do not check that the lenses provide protection against UV rays.

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By educating Americans about the dangers of UV rays on the eyes and the importance of choosing proper eyewear that provides the best UV protection, doctors of optometry are helping patients protect their long-term eye health.

The following top five tips from the American Optometric Association can help prevent further eye damage from exposure to UV radiation:

1. Wear protective eyewear any time your eyes are exposed to UV radiation, even on cloudy days and during the winter.

2. Look for quality sunglasses that offer good protection. Sunglasses should block out 99 to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B radiation and screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.

3. Check to make sure sunglass lenses are perfectly matched in color and free of distortions or imperfections.

4. Purchase gray-colored lenses because they reduce light intensity without altering the color of objects, providing the most natural color vision.

5. Don't forget protection for children and teenagers. They typically spend more time in the sun than adults and are at greater risk of damaging their retinas from short wavelength light.

Additionally, be sure to receive routine comprehensive eye exams from an eye doctor. It's a good way to monitor eye health, maintain good vision, and keep up-to-date on the latest in UV radiation protection.

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