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Ultraviolet (UV) Protection: What to Know and How to Choose

Protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays is considered a basic health care strategy for the eyes. UV rays are a type of radiation emitted by the sun, and chronic exposure to these rays endangers your vision and the health of your eyes.

view through polarized glasses

Extensive research links UV exposure to eye-related complications like cataracts, retinal tissue damage, corneal sunburn and macular degeneration. That means that the more time you spend under the sun, the higher the chances of developing eye problems.

UV-blocking sunglasses can protect your eyes from the negative effects of UV radiation. Many pairs that are available block 99 to 100 percent of the UV rays that make it to Earth’s surface.

Wearing UV-blocking glasses whenever you spend time in direct sunlight minimizes your UV exposure and keeps your eyes healthy.

What Is UV?

Ultraviolet radiation (also known as UV radiation) is invisible energy that is emitted by the sun’s rays. It can only be detected using specialized equipment like a spectrometer. It is always present during daytime hours, even when significant cloud cover provides shade. 

UV radiation is absorbed by the tissues in your body when it is exposed directly to them. This can damage those tissues and cause conditions like sunburn, skin cancer and eye damage.

There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB and UVC.

  • UVA has a longer wavelength and is less damaging than UVB. It is also much more common, making up 95 percent of the UV radiation that reaches the ground.
  • UVB has a shorter wavelength and is much stronger, but it is also rarer. It makes up just 5 percent of the UV radiation that humans are exposed to. 
  • UVC has the shortest wavelength of the three and would cause the most tissue damage upon exposure. However, it is filtered out by the planet’s atmosphere and never reaches the ground. 

How UV Harms Your Eyes

UV exposure makes you vulnerable to developing eye complications like macular degeneration or cataracts.

Small amounts of exposure to UV rays do not have adverse impacts on the eyes. Unfortunately, UV exposure can build up over time. The radiation burns the lens and cornea of your eyes much as it burns your skin.

Eventually, the rays may pass through the eyes to the macula (the part of the retina at the back of the eye) and damage your central vision.

How Much is Too Much?

All UV radiation has short- and long-term adverse effects on your eye health. Each instance of exposure causes damage that builds up over time, and since it is present during a large portion of each day, it is very difficult to avoid being exposed to it. 

Because of these factors, no amount of UV radiation exposure is considered safe.

The best way to protect yourself from eye damage is to eliminate your exposure to UV rays altogether. You can do this by wearing protective eyewear whenever you spend time outdoors. 

How to Protect Your Eyes from UV

1. Buy Protective Sunglasses

Sunglasses can only provide adequate UV protection to the eyes if they block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation and screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light. You must wear them at all times while out in the sunlight. It is especially important to wear them when the sun is very bright or in conditions with high levels of glare (such as right after a snowfall). 

2. Do Not Stare at the Sun

Staring at the sun burns the retina and the front sections of your eyes. Ophthalmologists report that a sunburned retina damages the macula and may cause macular degeneration.

This serious eye condition makes you see dark spots and may eventually cause you to lose your central vision. Because macular degeneration is irreversible, prevention is key.

What to Look for in Sunglasses for UV Protection

A high-quality pair of UV-protected sunglasses can guard your eyes against the negative effects of UV radiation. When shopping for a pair, check that the sunglasses meet the following requirements. 

  • UV protection should be coated over the sunglasses and not just embedded in its lens.
  • Buy sunglasses from reputable brands with a UV protection label. The label should say, “100% protection against UVB and UVA.” Others are labeled as “100% protection against UV 400.”
  • Sunglasses should screen 75 to 90 percent of visible light, making it easier for you to see in brightly lit conditions.
  • Lenses should have a uniform tint rather than a dark one.

If sunglasses do not meet these specifications, they will not provide adequate protection against UV radiation. You should not wear them.

Alternatives to Sunglasses

If you do not want to wear sunglasses, other types of eyewear can help protect your eyes. 

1. Contact Lenses

Wearing contact lenses for UV protection has multiple advantages over sunglasses. Contact lenses ensure that your vision is not obstructed. For people who are used to them, they are comfortable and let you participate in outdoor activities without fear of the glasses breaking or falling off.

2. Transition Lenses

Transition lenses can help if you already wear glasses and don’t want to switch to sunglasses while outdoors. Transition lenses will stay clear while you’re inside, and they will darken when you go outside and get exposed to UV light.

These lenses are typically not as dark as regular shades, and they take some time to revert back to their initial clear state when you walk inside. However, these downsides may be worth putting up with in return for the convenience they offer.

UV Protection Indoors

The glass windows in your office or home are usually designed to block UVB rays. However, they do not offer full protection from UVA rays. This means that when you are indoors and close to windows, you may expose your eyes to UVA rays.

To cut back on the amount of UV radiation reaching indoors, hang up curtains over any large windows. Avoid staring into or sitting in direct sunlight.

If you sit near windows or in a place where the sun can reach you, wear your sunglasses for UV protection.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can we protect our eyes from UV rays?

Wear UV-protection sunglasses that can block 100% of the radiation when outdoors during the day.

Does UV glass protect eyes?

Yes, UV glass protects the eyes from the negative effects of ultraviolet radiation.

What is the best UV protection for your eyes?

To get the best UV protection for your eyes, choose a pair of sunglasses that blocks 99 to 100 percent of UVB and UVA rays.

References

  1.  

    Protective Eyewear. (November 2021). National Eye Institute.

  2. Keep Your Eyes Healthy. (May 2021). National Eye Institute.

Last Updated March 23, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.