July is Ultraviolet UV Light Safety Month. Ultraviolet or UV light is not visible to the human eye. UV light is further divided into UV-A and UV-B light. So when you look for sunglasses, make sure it is labeled as 100% UV blocking. It’s important to remember common UV light comes from sunlight, but tanning beds are also an important source of UV related eye and skin damage. It is important to protect your eyes with UV blocking eyewear. If you wear FDA approved contact lenses, they are coated with UV protection. Likewise, prescription eyeglasses should have UV coating as well. These light rays can cause eye damage on the outside of the eye as well as inside the eye. On the outside, skin damage of the eye can result in a tough skin growth known as a pterygium. This growth can become irritated, red, cause a foreign body sensation, and eventually cause vision changes. It can be removed surgically when eye medications do not help, or if it is cosmetically unacceptable. These rays also pass through the pupil center and can damage the sensitive tissue inside the eye. It is possible that UV plays a role in the development of cataracts, which is a clouding of the natural lens inside the eye. See our June post about cataracts. UV is a known risk factor for the development and progression of macular degeneration (see our post on this, too), which is the degeneration of the tissue inside the eye responsible for processing the clearest vision.
Keep in mind that UV coatings are clear. The tint or color on sunglasses is important for different activities, but does not play a role in UV protection. Additionally, polarized eyewear is not the same as UV protection. Polarized lenses help block reflected light such as from concrete and water but doesn’t block harmful UV light rays. By the way, July is also National Fishing Month! Remember that on cloudy days UV rays are still reaching through so eyes and skin still need to be protected.