July is UV Safety Awareness Month, but what does that mean? Your eye care experts at OSM break down what you need to know to keep your vision safe this month and year-round.
What is UV?
Ultraviolet (UV) rays are an invisible kind of radiation that come from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sunlamps. There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. These classifications are based on how much UV is absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer. The most absorbed UV rays are UVA and UVB, which can penetrate and change skin cells in the human body.
Benefits vs. Dangers
In small doses, UV exposure from the sun helps with the production of vitamin D, a vitamin essential to human health as it helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus from food and assists in bone development. However, you do not need as much as you may think. The World Health Organization recommends five to 15 minutes of sun exposure, two to three times a week. Overexposure to UV can cause significant and lifelong damage.
Why is eye protection important?
People often associate UV damage with skin cancer, but prolonged exposure to UV can increase the risk of developing cataracts, macular degeneration, and growths on the eye, including cancer. All of these can ultimately lead to blindness. Unlike skin damage, which can often be visible in the form of burns or wrinkles, you may not notice damage to your eyes until you are older.
What can you do?
The best protection is prevention. For your eyes, this means wearing sunglasses that are 100% UV-absorbent for both UVA and UVB. The best sunglasses for your eyes will be labeled “UV400.” This means they can block nearly 100% of harmful UV light. If you really want to go the extra mile, wear wraparound, UV400 sunglasses along with a wide-brimmed hat. It is important to remember that damage to the eyes can occur under a variety of weather conditions, not just when the sun is shining. In other words, do not pack away your eye protection when summer ends.
Is damage reversible?
It depends. The type and duration of UV exposure to the eyes can determine how long-lasting the damage will be. Photokeratitis, damage caused to the eyes from the sun’s UV rays, is similar to a sunburn. If you spend a day out at the lake and forget your sunglasses, your eyes will likely recover in a few days. If, however, you look at a solar eclipse without proper eyewear, your eyes may experience indefinite damage. For those who develop cataracts, there is treatment available. If you are concerned about damage to your eyes or someone you love, reach out to your eye doctor for a consultation.
After months of staying home, the warm weather and shining sun are beckoning us out. Before leaving the house, many of us tick through our mental list of must-have items, “Wallet? Phone? Keys?” This month, make a pledge to your vision to add sunglasses to your list of necessities!