UV Exposure and Eye Health

During the summer months, we are subject to increased risk of UV (ultra-violet) and visible blue light exposure on the health of our eyes. Especially if you’re at higher altitudes, there is less atmosphere to protect us against harmful UV exposure that increases the risk for eye pathologies.

UV exposure has been conclusively linked to an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), premature cataracts, and pterygia that can result in dry eye and eye redness, skin cancer, and corneal sunburn. The World Health Organization developed a UV index scale (1-11) to indicate the potential for negative health effects of UV exposure. At a UV intensity of 3+, it is necessary to wear sunglasses for protection against UV. The UV index in Colorado is often above 3, due to the elevation and the number of clear days we have.

ARMD is a disease that is found predominantly in people over the age of 50 and UV exposure is one modifiable risk factor that should be reduced to protect against preventable vision loss.  Those who have light skin or blue eyes are at an increased risk due to having less melanin, or pigment, to filter UV light from reaching the retina and increasing the risk for ARMD.

UV exposure also increases the risk of early cataract formation and can compound the risk for cataract development in people taking sun-sensitizing medications. Many commonly prescribed anti-depressants, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory medications have been shown to result in an increase in cataract formation when combined with UV exposure. Patients taking these medications should be particularly diligent in wearing high quality sunglasses to protect against premature cataracts.

Sunglasses that permit only 12% transmission of light and protect against both UV-A and UV-B afford adequate protection. Sunglasses with sufficient wrap and larger lenses protect the delicate skin surrounding the eyes that is susceptible to skin cancer and premature wrinkling.  Polarization is another feature that effectively reduces glare and improves visual comfort. There are many quality fashion and athletic sunglasses options that can increase your enjoyment of the outdoors without incurring undue risk for UV-related eye diseases.