We’re all familiar with the campaign Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, Slide which was created to encourage protection against skin cancer. However, we often forget or are unaware that the final step—sliding on a pair of sunglasses—can also protect our eyes against the harmful effect of UV rays.
What is UV?
Ultraviolet (UV) is a form of electromagnetic radiation that isn’t visible to the human eye but is present in sunlight and other artificial sources, such as welding arcs, tanning lamps and black lights. While UV light is essential for producing Vitamin D in our bodies, it can be severely damaging to our eyes if we’re exposed to it for an extended period of time.
What Effect Can UV Have On Eyes?
A cataract is a clouding of the natural lens in the eye that affects vision. Cataracts can cause symptoms such as blurry vision, double vision, sensitivity to light, glare and changes to how you perceive the colour of objects. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens to restore clear vision.
- Macular Degeneration
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a common eye condition that causes vision loss. Dry AMD is the most common form of the condition and is characterised by a slow deterioration of the macula due to the accumulation of waste products. AMD can be caused by age, genetics, smoking and exposure to UV light. There is no cure, but early detection and treatment can slow the progression of the disease and help preserve vision.
Pterygium is a noncancerous growth of tissue that forms on the clear, outer layer of the eye (the conjunctiva). It’s sometimes referred to as “surfer’s eye” because it’s commonly found in people who spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in sunny areas near the equator. Pterygium typically starts as a small, triangular growth on the conjunctiva and can grow over time to cover part of the cornea. In some cases, a pterygium can cause symptoms such as redness, itching and burning, and in more severe cases, it can affect vision by distorting the shape of the cornea and causing astigmatism.
- Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and typically appears as a small, raised flesh-coloured bump on the skin.
- Squamous cell carcinoma is another type of skin cancer that can develop in the skin around the eye. It typically appears as a firm, red bump that may crust or bleed.
- Melanoma is a type of cancer that begins in the cells that produce pigment. Eye melanoma typically appears as a dark or multicoloured lesion in the iris or on the surface of the eye. Symptoms may include vision changes, floaters, flashes of light or a growing dark spot in the field of vision.
Photokeratitis is a painful condition that occurs when the cornea is exposed to excessive UV light. This typically causes symptoms such as eye pain, redness, sensitivity to light and a gritty or burning sensation in the eyes. In severe cases, it can cause temporary vision loss and a corneal ulcer, which is an open sore on the cornea.
Who is at Risk?
Everyone is at risk of eye damage from UV rays, but some people are more susceptible than others, including:
- People who spend a lot of time outdoors, such as construction workers, farmers and lifeguards or those who enjoy hobbies like surfing, swimming and hiking
- Children, as their eyes are more sensitive to UV radiation
- Individuals who wear contacts—if the lenses do not provide adequate protection from UV rays
- People who spend long or frequent periods tanning in the sun
- Those who have had cataract surgery in one or both eyes or a retinal disorder
- Individuals who take medications that increase the eye’s sensitivity to light