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Protecting Your Eyes from UV

By: Heather Marshall - Updated: 26 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Sunglasses sport Goggles snow

It is important to protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays. The ultraviolet rays can cause damage to your eyes which could affect your eyesight. The majority of people do wear sunglasses in sunny weather but many people are unaware just how damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays can be to our eyes.

There are three types of ultraviolet radiation UVA, UVB and UVC. The third type, UVC, is not harmful because these rays are absorbed by the upper atmosphere and do not reach the earth’s surface. However UVB rays are harmful as they can burn the skin and damage the eyes. Although not all scientists agree, there is some research which has shown a link to daily exposure to UVB in very bright sunlight and the development of cataracts. A cataract is a cloudy lens which causes your eyesight to become blurry.

UVB can also, in some cases, lead to eye growths such as pinguecula or a pterygium. Pinguecula are yellowish in colour and develop on the surface of the white part of the eye. There may not be any symptoms apart from the abrasions which form on the eye. They may cause the eye to become red, irritated and inflamed. Pinguecula can lead to a ptergium developing which is an eye growth that appears to form over the eye. The growth contains blood vessels and can cause the eye to become red and swollen. In some cases the growth may lead to astigmatism. Both of these eye growths can be treated with lubricating eye drops if the condition is mild. If the eye has become swollen, steroid eye drops may be needed. If the condition is more serious the growth can be surgically removed.

There has been a lot of debate about how harmful UVA rays are. These UVA rays are absorbed by the lens of the eye and may not be as harmful as UVB. However, it is best to make sure that your sunglasses will filter out both types of ultraviolet rays.


There is a huge range of sunglasses available and some are better for certain activities than others. If you play a lot of sport outside it might be worth getting some sport goggles which will also protect your eyes from sunlight. Sunglasses are labelled with how much UV radiation they block out. They will say what percentage of UVA and UVB rays are blocked out. To ensure your eyes are protected you should aim for 98% of UVA and UVB to be blocked.


When there is bright sunlight in the winter it is still important to wear sunglasses. Although the sun’s rays may feel less intense in the winter they are still strong enough to cause eye damage. Where there is bright sunlight after it has snowed you need to protect your eyes from snow blindness (photokeratisis). This is caused when sunlight reflects off the snow and hits your eyes. If it is also windy it can make the condition worse. This is a temporary condition but can be very painful, affecting the cornea of the eye. According to the World Health Organisation snow can reflect up to 80% of light compared with normal ground surfaces which reflect around 10% of light.

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