Protect your eyes from ultraviolet light

By Michael D. Pattison, O.D., Occupational Vision Optometrist, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJuly 1, 2013

July is Ultraviolet Light Safety Month, and anyone who has been sunburned in the past knows the effects of too much sun and UV light exposure. Most are aware that prolonged UV exposure can cause skin cancer and speed up the aging process of skin. Some are aware that UV light is needed by our bodies to produce vitamin D, which helps strengthen bones, muscles and the immune system and helps improve our mood.

Yet many are not aware that prolonged UV exposure damages the tissues of the eye and can lead to cataracts and other eye conditions such as the loss of central vision due to macular degeneration. In fact, most do not recognize the importance of UV protection for their eyes to prevent visual impairment. A recent study by the American Optometric Association stated that only 47 percent of Americans thought that UV protection was the most important factor when selecting sunglasses.

So what is UV light? UV is that invisible part of the light spectrum below blues and violets. While the primary source of UV light is the sun, other sources include welder's flash, fluorescent lighting, high-intensity mercury vapor lamps, xenon arc lamps, and UV lamps and devices used in certain occupations.

Those who spend a lot of time or work outdoors or spend prolonged hours working with UV-emitting light sources and children are at greatest risk. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have a standard for exposure to UV light, other agencies have established thresholds for exposure. Most types of UV lighting result in exposure levels well within acceptable exposure thresholds however, if at all concerned, protect your skin and your eyes.

For the eyes, use eyewear that provides as close to 100 percent eye protection from UV exposure as possible. Be aware that the tint of the lens has nothing to do with the UV protection of the lenses. A clear lens with 100 percent protection is better for your eyes than a dark, tinted pair without UV protection. In fact, dark lenses without UV protection can be even worse for your eyes because they allow more UV light to get into your eyes due to your pupils being larger. There are many safety glasses on the market that protect eyes from UV exposure, and all Military Combat Eye Protection, even with the clear lenses in place, "block 99.9 percent of all UVA and UVB light."

The answer is simple--preserve your sight to fight. Wear proper UV protection whenever exposed for prolonged levels of ultraviolet light.

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U.S. Army Public Health Command