Ultraviolet rays, or UV rays, are the unseen rays from the sun that carry low levels of radiation and can cause damage to the eyes and skin if precautions are not taken. The pros at Colorado Ophthalmology Associates of Denver, CO, have taken a closer look at what UV rays are and how they can affect your vision.
3 Types of UV Rays
- UVA rays – the least potent and the most abundant. It can penetrate clouds and cause sunburn on cloudy days. It can also penetrate car windows. UVA rays cause wrinkled, leathered skin and signs of aging. It increases your risk of melanoma, skin cancers and eye conditions.
- UVB rays – the most common cause of sunburns. While desirable for the production of vitamin D in your skin, most people get enough vitamin D in their normal routine to UVB rays should be avoided.
- UVC rays – the most powerful and the most dangerous type of radiation. This is found in places such as arc welders and can be combated with proper face shields. It is also found in the outer atmosphere and is mostly absorbed before it reaches earth.1
What Affects UV Radiation?
Ultraviolet radiation is affected by several factors. These factors include:2
- Time of day – 10 to 2 is when the sun is at its peak
- Season of the year – spring and summer has stronger UV rays
- Distance from the equator – closer to the equator means stronger UV rays
- Altitude – higher elevations receive more UV rays
- Cloud cover – UV rays can penetrate clouds and even be magnified by the water in clouds
- Surface reflections – UV rays can be increased by bouncing off of surfaces such as water, snow, sand, and pavement.
These factors are used to predict the UV Index that is released for our region. The UV Index is based on a Type 2 Fitzgerald skin type that burns easily, has a fair complexion and doesn’t tan well.3
Additionally, there can be man-made sources of UV rays. Sunlamps or tanning beds usually emit UVA rays. Black light lamps give off mostly UVA rays. Germicidal lamps can release the very harmful UVC rays. Mercury vapor lamps light the streets and gymnasiums and only emit UV rays when the outer bulb is broken. High pressure xenon, xenon-mercury arc lamps, plasma torches and welding arcs all emit harmful UVC rays and should be used with protective shields.2
Eye Conditions Caused by UV Radiation
Overexposure to UV rays can cause eye damage over time. This can cause eye conditions or worsen existing conditions including inflammation of the cornea, cataracts, macular degeneration, and pterygium or an abnormal growth of tissue on the cornea. These can potentially cause impaired vision and ongoing vision concerns.
How to Combat UV Rays
Prevention is key when protecting yourself and your children from damaging UV radiation. Limit the amount of outdoor exposure during the middle of the day. If you do go outside, wear sunglasses that are rated for 100% UVA and UVB protection. Sunglasses should be the same color on both sides and free from distortion and flaws. Wraparound frames and impact resistant lenses are important for people who work in the sunlight or play sports in the sun.5
Seek out shady places to enjoy the outdoors. Watch out for reflective surfaces. Reflections can rapidly irritate or harm the eyes. If you ski or play snow sports, goggles are imperative for protecting against eye sunburns.
Wide-brimmed hats and protective clothing are also a great idea. Always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher and reapply every 2 hours or more if swimming or sweating. Finally, watch the UV Index and plan outdoor activities accordingly.4
Exposure to large amounts of UV radiation can cause a sunburn to form on the eye. This is called photokeratitis and can be very painful. It can be accompanied by reddened eyes, a gritty feeling, sensitivity to light and extra tearing up.5 These sunburns can heal relatively quickly and usually don’t cause damage to the eyes, but it is best to try to avoid them by wearing hats and sunglasses outdoors in bright sunlight.
Get an annual eye exam
If you are concerned about the damage the sun’s rays have caused to your eyes, call one of our two Colorado locations in Denver or Lakewood today to schedule an annual exam. Our board-certified ophthalmologists can track any damage that may have occurred and help you make changes to protect your vision in the years to come.