The Importance of UV Protection

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can affect more than just your tan lines—it can affect your vision. One reason (among many) it’s important to have an eye exam with Vision Associates every year is so that your eye doctor can check for signs of damage. UV rays can contribute to:

  • Macular degeneration
  • Cataract formation
  • Retina damage and degeneration
  • Photo keratitis, aka “corneal sunburn”–it’s as painful as it sounds!

Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to protect your eyes from the effects of UV radiation. The first step is to get an idea of how much you are dealing with.

The UV Index and Other Factors

On any given day, there can be a number of factors that contribute to the amount of UV radiation you’ll have to face. Many weather forecasts include this index—which ranges from 1 to 11—with their forecasts. If your local stations don’t include it, you can check the Environmental Protection Agency’s UV Index Forecast.

The amount can vary because of location and several daily environmental factors. These factors include:

  • Cloud cover. Cloud cover is complicated. You would think enough cloud cover would block harmful UV rays. But sometimes, cloud cover can actually reflect back UV rays that bounce off of reflective surfaces on the Earth! It can be difficult to tell the effect of cloud cover just by looking outside. That’s one reason measurements like the UV Index are so important.
  • You’ll typically find more UV radiation close to the equator, and less in locations further from the equator.
  • Reflective surfaces.Water, snow, sand, and even pavement can reflect UV rays. Be aware that around these surfaces, you may be getting a double dose! It’s extra important to have UV eye protection if you spend a lot of time outdoors around reflective surfaces.
  • Time of day. UV rays usually hit peak intensity in the hours before and after noon—often between 10am and 4pm.
  • The higher above sea level you are, the more UV radiation you’ll have to deal with.
  • Time spent outside.This one is obvious, but it’s worth a reminder: The more time you spend in high UV conditions, the more it can affect you!

What You Need to Protect Your Eyes

Fortunately, UV protection for your eyes is easily obtainable and not that expensive.

While sunglasses are the strongest solution, not everyone wants to wear them every time they’re outside. But eyeglasses and even contact lenses can be treated or constructed to help filter out some ultraviolet light—something to definitely ask your eye doctor at Vision Associates about.

When it comes to sunglasses, it’s important to have a pair that blocks 99%-100% of UV light (which you can’t see), as well as 75%-90% of the light you can see. It’s best if these glasses either have wide-angled, large lenses, or are “wraparound” style. This helps protect your eyes from UV light coming in at all angles.

Finally, there are a couple of simple things you can do to manage your exposure. Shaded areas are a great idea—and a great way to keep cool. And while it’s no replacement for proper eyewear, a broad-brimmed hat is a great idea—and stylish!