Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Ultraviolet Radiation Damage Can Have Long Term Consequences For Your Eyes

If you were invited to be part of a nuclear radiation clean up crew, I bet you’d want to wear protective gear. Not just the white hazmat bunny suit, but the gloves, goggles, mask and booties as well, right?  But when it comes to ultraviolet radiation exposure, we often put on “half a suit” as it were. We cover our skin with sunscreen (maybe) but we don’t regularly protect our eyes. I’m not sure why we forget this step, but it’s time to get serious about eye protection.

In a recent interview with dermatologist, Dr. Jeanine Downey, and optometrist, Dr. Stephen Cohen, we discussed the long term damage that UV radiation can cause to the skin and eyes. I hope you’ll listen to our entire conversation here:

Sun damage of the skin has a familiar appearance – dark spots, wrinkles, thinning, and enlarged pores.  UV radiation causes visible damage to the eyes as well – yellowish corneas (the “whites” of the eyes), scars (called pterygia), and crow’s feet. Over time, eyelid skin can become cancerous from sun exposure, while eyeballs develop cataracts and macular degeneration (which can lead to blindness). The risk of these diseases and conditions can be greatly reduced with sun protection measures. And it’s not that hard to do…

Some quick tips to protect your eyes:

1. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and eyes from the sun.

2. Wear wrap-around sunglasses that absorb at least 99 to100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays for maximum eye protection.

3. If you wear contact lenses, ask your eye doctor about whether or not your lenses have UV protection. ACUVUE® OASYS® Brand Contact Lenses offers the highest level of UV blocking available, blocking at least 90 percent of UV-A rays and 99 percent of UV-B rays. Although UV-blocking contact lenses provide important additional protection for wearers, they do not completely cover the eye and surrounding area, and should not be considered as a substitute for UV-blocking sunglasses. For maximum protection, UV-blocking contact lenses should be worn in conjunction with high-quality, wrap-around, UV-blocking sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.

4. Remember that UV rays are more intense when reflected from water and snowy surfaces. Just because it’s the winter time doesn’t mean you don’t need to wear your sunglasses.

So next time you reach for your sunscreen, please remember to take your hat and sunglasses with you too! Fortunately, bunny suits and booties are still optional for UV radiation protection. ;-)

Disclosure: Dr. Val Jones is a paid consultant for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.

5 Important Reasons To Protect Your Eyes From The Sun’s UV Radiation

A Pterygium

Dermatologists have done a great job promoting sun safety. We all know that we should use sunscreen or sunblock to avoid burns, and to reapply it religiously when we plan to be outdoors for long periods of time. But how often do we think about protecting our eyes from the same UV rays?

A dear friend of mine has been on a long-term medicine that makes her skin especially sun-sensitive. She did not take sufficient precautions to protect her eyes from UV radiation (though she always wore sunscreen on her skin), and she developed a pterygium that looks just like the photograph above. Her condition reminded me of the importance of eye protection, and I thought I’d offer you 5 excellent reasons to start shielding your eyes from the sun. UV protection is critical for avoiding:

1. Photokeratitis. Photokeratitis is essentially a sunburn of the front layer (cornea) of your eyeball. If you’ve ever had a burning sensation in your eyes after a long day at the beach, or in the snow, you may have burned your eyes. Just as skin sunburns are painful and take a few days to calm down, eye pain can be very uncomfortable. But worse than the temporary discomfort is the increased long-term risks of pterygia, cataracts, and other eye conditions (see below).

2. Pterygia. Pterygia are overgrowths of corneal tissue that can grow across the iris and pupil. They can be cosmetically unsightly, and can block vision if they grow large. They are caused almost exclusively by UV damage, and are most common in people who live near the equator (because their exposure to UV radiation is highest). Surgery is the only known treatment for pterygia, though as many as 50% grow back, and surgical divets in the cornea can cause visual problems.

3. Cataracts. Cataracts are opacities of the eye lenses that lead to partial or total blindness. The exact mechanism by which they occur is unclear, though we know that sun exposure contributes to their development. Cataracts are the number one cause of blindness in the world.

4. Skin Cancers. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a type of skin cancer that primarily develops on skin that has been sunburned, especially in childhood. Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer that is much rarer than BCC, but also most commonly develops on skin that has been burned. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the least invasive type of skin cancer, and usually develops on skin that has had the largest total amount of sun exposure over a lifetime. People who don’t protect the thin eye skin and lids from UV radiation (beginning in childhood) are more likely to develop cancer around the eyes

5. Macular Degeneration. Exposure to the sun’s UV rays can cause damage to the deep structures of the eye, including the retina. Light focused on the macula (the most important part of the retina for vision) can cause damage in the area over time. Macular degeneration results in visual damage and even blindness.

Ok, so I hope I’ve convinced you that UV protection is critically important for your eyes… How can you protect yourself? There are 4 primary strategies:

1. Wear UV protective sunglasses. When buying sunglasses, check out their product labels and avoid glasses that are purely cosmetic – opt for those that block 99-100% of UV A and B rays. Larger glasses and wrap-arounds offer the most coverage. Remember that kids need sunglasses too!

2. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Although a hat doesn’t always protect you from glare and light reflection from other surfaces, it can reduce the total amount of radiation that reaches your eyes and skin.

3. Wear UV-protective contact lenses. Most people don’t realize that some contact lenses are manufactured with a UV protective layer already built in. Although they are not large enough to protect the entire eye surface (or the skin around the eye) they offer an added layer of protection against harmful UV rays. However, not all contact lenses offer UV protection, and of those that do, not all provide similar absorption levels. An eye care professional can prescribe Class 1 UV-blocking contact lenses, which provide the greatest level of UV protection and which have a Seal of Acceptance for UV Absorbing Contact Lenses from both the American Optometric Association and the World Council of Optometry’s Commissions on Ophthalmic Standards. These lenses block more than 90 percent of UVA rays and 99 percent of UVB rays.

4. Protect your eyes all day. UV radiation for the eyes is actually worse when the sun is lower in the sky. Researchers at the Kanazawa Medical University in Japan found that during early morning and late afternoon, UV exposure to the eyes was about double that of the hours around noon during Spring, Summer and Fall.

For more information about protecting your eyes from the sun, you may enjoy listening to my recent interview with Dr. Stephen Cohen.* He is an optometrist who lives in Arizona – and is therefore well acquainted with UV radiation! Scroll down to the bottom of the page after clicking on the link and you’ll see the podcast.


Note that I was paid by Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc. to host the radio show with Dr. Cohen.

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »