UV light can be just as dangerous for our eyes as it can for our skin. Nevertheless, very few people are aware of the negative effects that persistent UV exposure can have on the health of their eyes and their vision.
Here are the top 5 eye problems resulting from UV exposure that you need to be aware of.
Also known as ultraviolet keratopathy or corneal sunburn, photokeratitis refers to the swelling or inflammation of the cornea, which is the transparent dome that covers the front part of the eye. A corneal sunburn can occur from persistent exposure to UV light without proper protection, but it is particularly common in patients who have experienced very intense UV light that has been reflected back at their eyes from surfaces like snow and water. This makes it particularly common for people who surf, sail, ski, and snowboard. It is also often seen in welders.
Symptoms that would indicate that you are experiencing photokeratitis include:
Excessive watering of the eye
Sensitivity to light
In most instances, photokeratitis is only temporary, but most patients require professional support in the form of artificial tears and antibiotic eye drops to help their eyes heal quickly and effectively.
A pinguecula is the name of a small growth that can develop on the eye as a result of UV exposure. It is white or yellowish in color and forms a raised lump or bump within the white part of the eye. Pingueculas are more common in patients who live near the equator, and in very sandy, dusty, and dry environments. You may not necessarily notice a pinguecula causing problems right away, but the lump can become red and swollen, at which point you will need medication in the form of eye drops to treat it. If you develop a pinguecula you will also be encouraged to wear adequate eye protection such as sunglasses and/or goggles, to prevent it from getting any worse.
A pterygium is another eye growth that can occur when someone has let their eyes be persistently exposed to harmful UV rays. Like pinguecula’s, pterygiums form on the white part of the eye but tend to be more noticeable. They are also able to spread onto the cornea, and if this happens, it can cause scarring which could lead to distorted vision and even vision loss. Pterygium growths have to be surgically removed in order to prevent them from compromising the patient’s sight. Wearing adequate UV protection is the best way to prevent pterygium’s from forming.
Many eye conditions that develop as a result of damage caused by UV light do so after years and years of exposure. Cataracts are one example. A condition characterized by the clouding of the natural lens of the eye, and more commonly associated with older people, cataracts tends to be seen earlier in patients who haven’t protected their eyes from the sun. This is thought to be due to the radiation from the UV triggering cellular changes to the proteins found within the natural lens of the eye, causing them to clump together and obscure the patient’s vision. Eventually, someone who has cataracts will become entirely blind. The only treatment is to surgically remove the natural lens of the eye and replace it with an artificial alternative.
Macular degeneration is also more commonly seen in patients of older degeneration. UV rays can cause damage to a part of the eye called the macular, and over time, this damage can cause the cells to degenerate, resulting in weak central vision that can make activities such as reading, watching tv, and even recognizing faces difficult. There is evidence to suggest that persistent exposure to UV light can speed up the rate at which macular degeneration occurs. Although there are various treatments, there is currently no cure. Protecting your eyes against UV is the best defense against the early development of macular degeneration.
For more information on eye problems resulting from UV exposure, or to schedule an appointment to discuss any concerns that you may have, please contact our knowledgeable eye care team.