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UV Damages to Eyes: How Harmful Is UV Light to Your Eyes?

Most are aware of the importance of sunscreen, but few remember how important it is to protect our eyes. Discover how harmful UV light could be to your eyes.


April is the month that we’ve all been waiting for it; Sunshine! The sun’s warmth and light are vital to us. That being said, the sun is also a real danger to our eyes. Although most Canadians are aware of the importance of wearing sunscreen to protect themselves from sunburns and skin cancer, very few of us remember how important it is to also protect our eyes.

Understanding UV rays

The sun emits different types of UV rays, two of which are extremely dangerous to our health; UVB & UVA rays. These rays aren’t completely absorbed or altered when passing through the atmosphere which poses a risk to our eyes and skin.

If we know that UV rays are stronger in tropical climates, in other words, the closer we get to the equator, the same goes for the higher we are in altitude, the more the rays are intensified. These dangerous rays are denser between the hours of 10am & 3pm.

The environment in which we live also factors into consideration. Naturally, people living countryside or in the mountains are more exposed. If you live in the city, you are automatically protected by the shadows of the surrounding buildings. Water, sand and snow are extremely powerful reflectors of these UV rays.

Snow: the formidable light reflector


Every Canadian has been confronted with the situation at one time or another; you wake up in the morning to a beautiful sunny day in early April and you decide to go for a stroll around the city. Unfortunately, the second you walk out of the house, you’re immediately blinded by the sunlight. The probable culprit is actually the snow with its’ crisp white color which enables the sun’s ray to reflect off of it in brutal fashion. That explains why we tan even more while skiing or at the beach. The downside is, the snow and sand also reflect the same bright light in our eyes and that could be harmful to our vision.

In wintertime, our skin is protected by the clothes we wear from head to toe. Nonetheless, we tend to forget to wear sunglasses because we underestimate the brightness of the sun during winter months. Obviously, it is highly recommended to wear a ski mask or goggles for winter sports enthusiasts. Skiiers protect their eyes from wind and cold and snow but above all, from light reflected off of the snow.

The impact of UV rays on our vision

As mentioned previously, UV rays pose a great risk to our skin & vision. What makes these rays so dangerous is that in general, the consequences for our vision are cumulative and irreversible. Studies have linked many ocular issues like cataracts, pinguecula, photokeratitis, age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) & of course eye cancer to exposure to UV rays. Photokeratitis (inflamed cornea), also known as “snow blindness”, is fortunately curable. However, advanced ARMD and eye cancer are much more serious and can have a profound effect on our vision. According to a study by The Skin Cancer Foundation, nearly 3000 new cases of intraocular cancers are diagnosed every year in the United States. Exposure to UV rays, especially UVB, is the main cause of tumor formation.

How to protect ourselves from UV rays

The best way to our eyes from the sun’s harmful rays is to wear sunglasses, but not just any pair of sunglasses will do. There are many different types of sunglasses for every different style and for every different budget. When it comes to picking out sunglasses, many of us unfortunately choose fashion over the quality of the lenses themselves.

There are different types of filtering lenses. Mineral (extremely scratch resistant but can break easily if dropped or accidently knocked around) and organic (lightweight and shock resistant). There are many different treatments (coatings) that can be added on to certain lenses. For example, anti-reflective, photochromatic (lenses turn dark in sunlight), colored or even mirror-effect. The most important thing to take into consideration is the UV index in the lenses. It is recommended to have a UV index of at least 3 or 4.

Also, it is highly recommended to buy your sunglasses from a certified optician or optometrist. Even though we can find sunglasses just about anywhere these days from the corner store to grocery store, only a qualified optician or optometrist can help you choose a pair of sunglasses that will not only look good but more importantly, will protect your eyes as well. You can even get prescription sunglasses if needed.

In conclusion, if you often find yourself in direct sunlight, Health Canada strongly recommends wearing a hat with a wide brim along with your sunglasses.



Quentin Reinhart

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I See Optometry

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Ottawa ON K1N 5P4

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