UV Radiation and Your Eyes

UV damage can occur if you live anywhere on the planet, but living in a tropical climate like Florida exposes us to long-term skin and eye damage. UVB has long been established as a cause of ocular damage. Now we know that UVA radiation also poses a serious threat. Activities which increase our UV radiation exposure include fishing, water skiing, golfing and other outdoor activities. Since the ozone is expected to deplete another 20% over the next 10-20 years, people living in northern locations in the northern hemisphere and in the southern locations of the southern hemisphere where holes in the ozone layer have been located, will be exposed to unhealthy radiation levels, especially during the summertime.

UV damage to the eye manifests most commonly as cataracts, but when UVA rays hit the eye tangentially, the conjunctiva (white part) of the eye is vulnerable to growths called pinguecula and pterygia. Pterygia, which require surgical removal, affect more than 10% of the population in the southern United States and more than 20% in central Mexico. Cataracts progress in all eyes as we age, but increased UV radiation exposure or nonsolar UV radiation, such as that found in welding arcs, lasers and tanning beds will cause cataract formation to progress at an earlier age. Age related macular degeneration can also result from cumulative UV exposure.

The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of a person’s lifetime UV light exposure occurs before the age of 18. Adults tend to wear sunglasses, but children spend more time outdoors without wearing them. Most styles of sunglasses don’t prevent all UV rays from reaching the eyes because direct and reflected sunlight can shine through the sides, top and bottom of eyeglasses. Studies have shown that UV-blocking contact lenses can also help the peripheral light that sunglasses can’t block. Living in Florida requires outdoor enthusiasts to be cognizant of UV exposure and protecting our valuable eyes. For a free pterygium or cataract evaluation, call the KONOWAL VISION CENTER at (239) 948-7555.


  1. Everyone needs protection from ultraviolet light, which causes cataracts and may contribute to retinal disease.
  2. Parents should provide sunwear protection for children, as UV damage starts in childhood.
  3. The more time you spend in the sun, the more critical your need for ocular UV protection.
  4. UV light that “leaks” around the sunwear can damage the eye and periorbital skin.
  5. We should limit sun exposure by wearing sunglasses that meet ANSI “general purpose” lens standards and protect the periorbital area, using sunscreen, covering the skin with clothing, or by staying indoors during the peak hours of the day.
  6. UV damage to the skin during childhood (via sunburn) increases the risk for skin cancer later in life.