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Protect your eyes from the sun

Health advice

POSTED: July 22, 2009 10:05 a.m.
We hear a lot about the damage ultraviolet rays do to our skin, but how many of us are aware that these rays can also cause severe damage to our eyes? Prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause burns to the surface of the eye and the cumulative effects of ultraviolet damage have been linked to cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and a reduced ability to see clearly at night.
Evidence now shows that prolonged sun exposure also leads to the development of pingueculae and pterygia, which are growths on the surface of the eyes that may need to be removed surgically.
In addition, basal cell carcinoma, the most common eyelid malignancy, is caused by sun exposure. If left untreated, basal cell carcinoma can be locally invasive and may require extensive surgery and eyelid reconstruction.
Children are more susceptible to ultraviolet damage than adults because they tend to spend more time outside than adults and are often not as careful to protect their eyes or to realize when they’ve burnt them. They also don’t seem to remember that even when the weather is overcast, the sun still emits intense, harmful rays. Sun damage to eyes, like skin damage, accumulates over time so it is important to teach children to protect their eyes to ensure a lifetime of healthy vision.
Even one day in the sun can result in a burned cornea, is the outermost, clear membrane layer of the eye. Remember also that water reflects and intensifies the sun’s rays so everyone must be especially careful when playing in the water.
The best way to protect eyes is to wear sunglasses and a brimmed hat. Since some children don’t enjoy wearing sunglasses, encourage them by letting them select a style they particularly like. This isn’t that difficult as many manufacturers now make fun, multicolored glass frames or frames embossed with cartoon characters. And don't forget that kids want to be like grown-ups. So if you wear sunglasses regularly, your kids will be more willing to follow your example.
Adults who spend a large amount of time in the sun, whether for work or recreation, are at greater risk for eye problems caused by UV rays. People who have had cataract surgery or other retinal disorders, and people who take certain medicines, such as tetracycline, sulfa drugs, birth control pills, diuretics and tranquilizers, are also at special risk.
Short-term “over exposure” of the eyes to sun may result in the following symptoms:
• excessive blinking
• swelling  
• difficulty looking at strong light
• sunburn of the cornea (acute photokeratopathy)
Exposure to UV radiation over long periods can result in more serious damage to the eyes, including:
• cataracts
• pterygium
• solar keratopathy
• cancer of the conjunctiva
• skin cancer of the eyelids and around the eyes.
Not all sunglasses provide the same level of ultraviolet protection. Some sunglasses are just darkened plastic or glass lenses without special UV filters. Purchase sunglasses with labels ensuring that they provide 99-100 percent UV protection.

Ratcliffe is an information specialist with the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-2173, ext. 236
 

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