Our patients are a proactive bunch, and the topic on many patient’s minds these days is prevention. Some forms of prevention are more obvious than others. If you want to prevent foreign-body eye injuries, make sure you wear your safety glasses or goggles. If you want to help prevent contact lens-related eye disease, change your contact lenses as recommended by your optometrist. But what about eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts? Where do those diseases come from and how can you prevent them? Just like wearing protective eyewear is an important step to prevent eye-related injuries, knowing about the damaging effects of ultraviolet light and taking actions to prevent that ultraviolet light from oxidizing ocular tissues is just as critical.
Ultraviolet (UV) light is part of the sun’s light spectrum and is defined as light waves that are shorter than visible light, but longer than x-rays. While UV light can be beneficial to human health (it allows for production of vitamin D), it is also well-known to cause sunburn, and ultimately skin cancers. Compared to fifty years ago, the general population is aware of the risks of skin-sun exposure and sunblock has become a way of life in the summertime. But just as UV light damages skin, it also causes damage to structures in the eye.
Short-term, high intensity exposure to UV light can result in extreme damage to the cornea. Snow blindness is caused when underlying snow reflects UV light into a person’s eyes, and the cornea itself suffers trauma. Another acute type of ocular UV damage is from a welding arc. The UV light from the welding arc can cause damage to the cornea, lens, and retina, and highlights the need for full-time protection for the welder, as well as anyone in the general vicinity of the welder.
Cataracts occur when the transparent natural lens behind the iris gets foggy or yellow. Cataracts can be caused by diabetes, trauma, medication, or they can be congenital. We recommend that children be seen at 6-12 months of age for their first eye exam in order to rule out congenital cataracts, among other eye conditions. While there are many causes of cataracts, most develop slowly over time and are associated with age –because with age comes more exposure to sunlight. The American Optometric Association suggests that cataracts can be prevented by “reducing exposure to sunlight through UV-blocking lenses, decreasing or discontinuing smoking, and increasing antioxidant vitamin intake through consumption of leafy green vegetables and nutritional supplements.”
Another common eye disease is age-related macular degeneration. This disease affects a patient’s central vision and can be devastating to a patient’s lifestyle. Even mild macular degeneration can result in an inability to drive or recognize faces of family and friends. Macular degeneration has been linked to ultraviolet, so again, wearing protective eyewear outdoors is important. Macular degeneration has also been connected with diet, so making sure your diet is rich in high-antioxidant foods is important as well.
At Vista Eye Care, our optometrists want to prevent eye disease before it affects patients’ eye health and vision. You can take actions to prevent problems in the future, and UV eye protection is among the most important actions you can take. Especially when we live at altitude in Thornton, protecting your eyes from solar radiation is an important step. Please ask your eye doctor at your next annual check-up about what you can do to prevent eye disease, and stop by our office any time to browse our fantastic selection of sunglasses!