July is UV Safety Month. But just what are UV rays and what does UV protection have to do with your eyes?

What are UV rays?

UV rays are a type of radiation, or energy, that comes from the sun. The abbreviation “UV” stands for “ultraviolet,” the name for this type of energy.

There are three different types of UV rays: UVA, UVB and UVC. The earth’s ozone layer blocks all UVC rays and some UVB rays – the type that cause sunburn – but not UVA rays. UVA rays can reach the earth’s surface even on cloudy days. They can also penetrate glass, such as a window.

Learn more about UV rays

How do UV rays cause eye damage?

UVA rays can reach your eye’s lens through the cornea, the clear tissue at the front of the eye. Your cornea absorbs UVB radiation and most UVA radiation. But some UVA rays still make it through. If they are not blocked, they can damage the lens over time.

Wearing sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection can protect your eyes. Since UV rays can reach your eyes from the side as well as the front, UV protection sunglasses in a wraparound style or with side inserts are the most effective at blocking UV rays and preventing eye damage. They can also help protect the delicate skin around your eyes, which is prone to wrinkles, age spots and more serious conditions, including skin cancers.

Why is UV eye protection so important?

UV radiation may contribute to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. It may also be a factor in eye cancer and a type of eye growth called a pterygium.

A large amount of sun exposure, such as a day of boating, fishing or skiing without sunglasses, can cause a painful temporary condition called photokeratitis, or snow blindness. This is essentially a sunburn on the cornea, and is extremely painful.

Oregon Eye Specialists physicians are members of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which recommends sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat any time you are outside.

Get more UV eye protection tips from the AAO

Learn more about UV protection sunglasses

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