New York, N.Y. (June 2002) -- The sun provides enjoyment, but over-exposure can damage your skin and your eyes.
The harm to your eyes comes from the ultraviolet (UV) light of the sun which can trigger a host of ophthalmic maladies: cataracts, macular degeneration, corneal burns, benign growths, solar retinopathy and eye cancer.
"The best way to prevent these problems is to wear sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection," says Paul T. Finger, M.D., director of Ocular Tumor Services at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary."Think of sunglasses as sun block for your eyes." ®
"People who work outdoors, have blue eyes or take certain drugs are especially vulnerable to eye damage from sunlight," says Dr. Finger."So is anyone who takes a vacation day at the beach, or goes sailing or skiing, because the reflective glare of sand, water or snow magnifies sun exposure."
Here are a few outdoor job categories that create the greatest risk.Construction workers, gardeners, truck drivers, pilots, park rangers, lifeguards, fishermen, police officers, couriers, farmers, and ski instructors -- all top the charts for sun exposure -- and should don a hat, as well as sunglasses.
"Certain drugs also increase UV toxicity," said Dr. Finger."Patients who take chlorothiazides, sulfonamides, tetracycline, phenothiazines, psoralens, and allopurinol should be extra cautious about sunlight."
No one color of sunglasses (gray, brown, green or yellow) is better than any other in blocking the damaging rays of the sun.The key feature to look for in all sunglasses is that they have 100 percent UV protection.Most optical shops have a machine called a photometer that can measure UV transmission, so have your glasses checked.
"Most brands of sunglasses sold in the United States today have 100 percent UV protection, but some knock-off brands may not," said Dr. Finger."Most all cataract implants, called IOL's, contain UV blocking agents and can block UV light," he added.
Two additional tips about sunglasses:(1) Persons who have color vision problems may want to select gray glasses, especially for driving and (2) Polarizers and antireflective coatings can be added to any pair of sunglasses to decrease glare.
Cataracts and UV Protection for Children -- A cataract develops when the natural lens within your eye becomes discolored, cloudy and difficult to see through.When you are a child, your lens is absolutely clear, then discolors as you get older.An older, slightly discolored lens will absorb most of the harmful UV light and protect your retina.So, it is most important to wear UV protecting sunglasses when you are young and to put them on your children.
Macular Degeneration -- The retina is the light sensing layer that lines the inside of your eye. The macula is the functional center of the retina used to read and watch TV.Macular degeneration is the most common cause of severe irreversible vision loss in the elderly and is more commonly found in people with light colored irises and fair complexions. Since studies have associated macular degeneration with sun (UV) exposure, you can protect yourself with sunglasses.
Cancer -- Most of us know that several sun burns experienced as a child will lead to a lifetime risk for skin melanoma.This is also true for tumors in and around the eye.Though eye cancers are relatively uncommon, basal cell carcinomas are typically found on the more exposed lower eyelid and melanomas of the conjunctiva are becoming more common.Studies have shown that intra-ocular melanomas are more commonly found in people with light-colored irises and outdoor occupations.
New Treatments -- The good news is that cataracts can be replaced with artificial lenses (IOL's) and most eye cancers are cured by surgical removal or radiation.
Recent findings have demonstrated that certain doses of vitamin C, E, zinc and copper; eating green vegetables, and laser treatments have improved the outcomes of patients with macular degeneration.
If you are a reporter seeking to interview this or any other doctor at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, please contact Jean Thomas, at (212) 979-4274, or Axel F. Bang, at (914) 234-5433.