Most of my patients live in Florida at least in part because the weather is sunny and pleasant. I talk to many people who grew up in the Midwest or New England and lots of them remark about the how the sun makes them feel good. And this can be true. Lack of exposure to sunlight can result in, among other things, mood changes from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
But according to a new survey by the New England Eye Institute and Transitions Optical, the vast majority of people do not know that sunlight can also harm the eyes. According to the survey, while 3 out of 4 people know that ultraviolet (UV) light can cause skin cancer, only 1 in 20 knew that it can do damage to the eyes.
Living in Florida, this is important and something that I talk about all day with my patients. All sunlight contains UV light, and we Floridians get more UV than other parts of the country. So we need to be especially educated on this topic.
Exposure to UV light can increase the risk of several eye diseases such as:
- Development of cataracts
- Development of macular degeneration
- pterygia (deposits between the whites of the eyes and the cornea)
- skin cancer of the eyelids
What you should do to protect yourself:
- Educate yourself. Learn about UV light and your level of risk. You can check the current UV index in Tampa here.
- Have regularly scheduled eye exams to check for signs of eye disease. Many of these conditions start off with no symptoms and can only be detected by a skilled doctor.
- Ensure that your sunglasses are UV rated for protection. Just because they are dark does not mean that they have proper protection. Look for glasses with "UV 400" or "99% UV A, UV B" on the sticker, rather than just "block UV light."
- Ensure that your sunglasses wrap around your face to provide the fullest protection possible.
- Order lenses for your non-sunglasses that block UV light. Even clear lenses for everyday wear should protect your eyes, and modern lens materials can provide this.
- If you wear contact lenses outside, consider lenses that offer UV protection. This does not replace sunglasses, which protect your eyelids as well as your eyes, but it is one additional level of protection.
For additional detailed information, see the American Optometric Association's Statement on Ocular Ultraviolet Radiation Hazards in Sunlight.
Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD
Bright Eyes Family Vision Care
Located in the Westchase area of Tampa.