How UV rays damage your eyes

Sunlight can be split into various colours, or waves, which are visible to the naked eyes, and other waves that we do not see, namely infrared and UV rays.

UV rays come in three different types, each named with an initial that describes their harmful effects on our bodies:

  • UV-A: Cause rapid aging of the skin, wrinkles, sunspots and other skin changes. They also cause ageing of the eyes, both the outer layer and the inside as it penetrates through the pupil.
  • UV-B: Cause burning of the skin, as well as of the eyes, both externally and internally. The most common eye problem caused by UV-B rays is a corneal sunburn, also known as corneal ultraviolet keratitis.
  • UV-C: Cause skin cancer

Luckily, most UV-C rays are blocked by the ozone layer, however the rest still penetrate through this protective barrier and extended exposure to UV radiation can damage our eyes in various ways.

UV-A and UV-B rays cause ageing and burning of the lens of the eye, which causes the early onset of cataracts in countries like Malta, where people’s eyes are continually exposed to the sun, as well as other conditions including:

  • Photokeratitis : burning and hardening of the cornea (outermost layer of the eye) and conjunctiva (white part of the eye). This can cause temporary vision loss.
  • Macular degeneration
  • Pterygium : growth in the conjunctiva
  • Skin cancer on the eyelids

The UV index in Malta normally reaches a high of 15 during the hottest summer months, July and August, which presents an elevated risk of sunburn, skin cancer and sun-related eye damage if protective measures aren’t taken.

Just like you use sunscreen to create a protective layer on your skin, to protect your eyes from the damage of solar radiation you need to put on sunglasses to block out UV rays.

Sunglasses with close-fitting frames and wraparound styling offer the best protection because they limit the entry of sunlight through, above and beyond the periphery of the standard frames.

Investing in sturdy, high-quality sunglasses with good UV protection is a must. Unfortunately, many people opt for cheap, fake ones which could result in UV damage to your eyes.

In fact, when we wear sunglasses with dark lenses, our eyes will automatically adjust to the shade by dilating the pupil (the black, middle part of the eye where light enters) so as to permit more light to enter inside it.

Therefore, if you’re wearing cheap-quality sunglasses without UV protection, you’ll actually be doing the worst possible UV damage to your eyes since more UV rays are entering your eyes.

Unless you invest in high-quality protective eyewear, it’s better to allow your eyes to adapt naturally to sunlight by narrowing the pupil and letting less waves inside.