It's a fact: almost everybody is regularly exposed to UV rays. Even though this is the case, the potential dangers related to years of exposure to these unsafe rays are not often considered, to a point where many barely take enough action to guard their eyes, even if they're expecting on being exposed to the sun for an extended period of time. Being exposed to too much UV is unsafe and irreversible, and may also result in a number of serious, vision-stealing conditions down the road. And so, continuing protection from UV rays is vital for everyone.
There are two types of UV rays: UV-A and UV-B, both of which are harmful. Although only tiny amounts of UVA and UVB light hit the inner eye, the eye tissue is incredibly receptive to the harmful effects of their rays. Even in the short term, small amounts of exposure can easily cause sunburn of the eye, also known as photokeratitis. When the cornea receives UVB rays, the outer cells are significantly damaged, which can lead to pain, blurred vision or even temporary blindness. UVA rays can actually permeate the eye much deeper, which causes damage to the retina.
An ideal way to shield your eyes from UV rays is through the use of good eyewear. Be sure that your sunglasses or prescription glasses block 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. An inadequate pair of sunglasses can sometimes be worse than wearing no sunglasses at all. Consider this: when sunglasses don't offer any protection against UV, you are actually being exposed to more UV rays. Sunglasses that are inadequate tend to reduce the light, which causes the iris to open and let even more light in. This means that more UV will reach the retina. It's important to check that your sunglasses offer effective protection against UV.
Years of exposure to UV rays can also cause an abnormal tissue growth on the eye, known as pterygium. This is a narrow, wedge-shaped tissue growth with blood vessels that appear over the white part on the surface of the eye. In addition to being cosmetically unsightly, a pterygium can irritate the eye, and can even affect the curve of the eyeball, which will cause astigmatism. If the pterygium starts to grow over the cornea, it can blur or obstruct vision and may require surgery. Because pterygia are the result of long-term UV exposure and windy conditions, it's entirely preventable.
Talk to your optometrist about the various UV protection options, including, but not limited to, adaptive lenses, polarized lenses and fixed tint sunglasses.