By Elena Llewellyn
Special to GUIDON
The optometry team at Kenner’s Eagle Eye Clinic has seen many types of ocular injuries resulting from over-exposure to sunlight.
Typical damage includes lumps from scarring, reddening of the white part of the eye — not much different than sunburn to the skin — and the onset of cataracts or other vision issues that may only be correctable through surgery.
What makes sunlight most dangerous is ultraviolet light, which falls into three categories: UVA, UVB and UVC.
UVA is the nasty one. The warning signs of unhealthy levels of exposure to this type of ultraviolet light include swelling, fluid retention and burns.
Frequent occurrences can cause damage to the retina or nerve layer in the eye. Worst case is permanent damage to the nerve layer and loss or distortion of vision.
UVB is the type of ultraviolet light that causes cataracts (cloudiness of the lens inside the eye), and sunburn of the cornea. The “bloodshot” appearance and gritty feeling in the eyes after a day at the beach or pool can usually be attributed, at least in part, to the intrusion of UVB.
After years of exposure to this kind of light, there can be elevated growths of the white part of the eye called pinquecula or pterygium. These sometimes have to be surgically removed if they start growing across the eye.
UVC is the least worrisome of the three types of ultraviolet light as most of it is absorbed by haze and clouds in the upper atmosphere.
The good news is that people can still enjoy time outdoors in the sun without risking their eyesight to do it. One of the simplest protective measures is wearing a brimmed hat that shades the face.
Good quality sunglasses also are recommended as they will block direct sunlight and the indirect UV rays bouncing off reflective surfaces.
There are a wide variety of “shades” available, just make sure they have a label reading “UVA and UVB protection.” They do not have to cost a lot, and they do not have to be polarized — a visual comfort feature that blocks reflective light, but does not provide eye protection.
Even more good news for KAHC beneficiaries, sunglasses at the Eagle Clinic are made of polycarbonate. Not only is this an impact resistant material, it also blocks UVA and UVB light. As a bonus, it also makes lenses thinner and more lightweight.
The eye protection Soldiers wear at the range also are made of polycarbonate. Even though they are clear, they still block harmful UV light.
Another frequently asked question about sunglasses is ‘does it matter if the lenses are brown, blue, pink or some other hue? UV protection has nothing to do with the color of the lens. Fashion glasses with pink lenses can still block the harmful UV light. Just make sure they are rated for UVA/UVB protection.
Anyone worried about eye damage that may have already occurred as a result of sun exposure, or those seeking additional information about eye protection for themselves and loved ones, should talk to eye care provider.
(Editor’s note: Llewellyn is an optometrist with Kenner’s Eagle Eye Clinic in Fort Lee, Virginia.)