In the summertime, we wear our sunglasses on a regular basis but we should also be wearing them during the winter months because ultraviolet light can damage our eyes any time of the year. Here’s why you should wear your sunglasses in the winter, too.
UV light is electromagnetic radiation that isn’t visible to the human eye and there are different types of UV light, some more common than others. Ultraviolet rays are intense during all daylight hours any time of year. Cold temperatures don’t affect the intensity of these rays. The more common types of UV light are:
- UVA – A stands for aging. This type of radiation penetrates deep into the skin and can cause premature aging of the eye and the tissue surrounding it.
- UVB – B stands for burning. This type of radiation generally affects the outer layers of the skin, causing sunburns, premature aging and skin cancer.
- UVC – This is the strongest and most dangerous form of UV light, however, these rays are blocked by the earth’s ozone layer and don’t reach the earth’s surface.
While you may have experienced sunburn from UV radiation, UV light can also damage the lens, cornea and retina of the eye. Conditions that can be linked to UV light exposure include:
- Macular degeneration
- Pterygium (non-cancerous growth in the thin, clear tissue of the eye)
- Possible blindness
- Pingueculae (non-cancerous disease of the conjunctiva)
- Photokeratitis (snow blindness)
Failure to wear proper sun protection can cause an inflammatory response of the cornea in as little as 8 to 24 hours after exposure to significant amounts of UV radiation. Some forms of optical damage can occur in as little as 20 seconds, while conditions like pingueculae, pterygium and cataracts develop slowly over time.
Treating UV Damage
Photokeratitis is usually treated with topical corticosteroids, antibiotics, heavy lubrication and avoiding sunlight until the condition is corrected.
If a pterygium becomes significant enough to impair vision, surgery may be required to remove it.
Cataracts, too, can be surgically removed when they begin to affect sight. In many cases an intraocular lens can be implanted during the surgery to restore proper vision.
A pingueculae rarely requires surgical intervention. This condition is commonly treated with sun protection and lubrication.
Protecting Your Eyes
The most common ways to protect your eyes from UV radiation is by wearing wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Sunglasses clearly labelled as offering UV protection, should be worn during the winter months, as well as in the summertime.
Skiers, boaters and beachgoers are at a higher risk for sun damage due to the sun reflecting off of snow and water.