Everyone knows that UV rays are responsible for the development of skin cancer, but what a lot of people aren’t aware of is that UV rays can actually increase your risk of developing cataracts and other vision problems. This fact has not always been known.
Before fairly recently when various studies were performed that linked UV exposure to cataract development, it was thought that cataracts only occurred due to age, smoking, and other health issues.
Cataracts occur when the clear lens of the eye becomes damaged and develops a cloudy appearance. Age-related cataracts usually develop gradually over a period of time. Cataracts in younger people and people with diabetes usually develop much quicker, though it is impossible to predict how quickly cataract progression will happen in any one person.
It is estimated that more than 22 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts. However, younger adults, children, and even babies can develop cataracts for various reasons. It has been determined that UV rays account for at least 10 percent of all cataract cases.
UV Rays and Cataracts
According to a study performed by the National Eye Institute, there is a link between UV rays and oxidative stress. When UV light hits the eye, it can take the place of oxygen and can cause oxidative reactions in the lens that are extremely harmful and can lead to the development of cataracts. The proteins in the lens clump up together, which is what causes the lens to become cloudy.
People who are already at risk of developing cataracts due to genetics, their age, or other medical issues are even more likely to have cataracts develop if they expose their eyes to UV rays too often. The risk does also increase for everyone else as well. You could have no genetic history of cataracts and you may take really good care of your health and your eyes, but if you spend too much time exposing your eyes to the sun’s rays, you could still wind up with cataracts one day in the future.
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Symptoms of Cataracts
If you notice that your vision has become blurry or you have double vision, these could be signs that you may have cataracts. Of course, it’s not a given, these are just possible symptoms. In addition, if your eyes become sensitive to light and you notice halos or glares in your vision or you’re not seeing colors correctly, these could also be signs that you’re developing cataracts and you should visit your eye doctor as soon as possible.
Treatments for Cataracts
In the early stages of cataracts, eye glasses can be used to help you see better. Sunglasses can be worn to reduce glares, and magnifying glasses can be used to help you read easier. However, surgery is usually performed to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens when the cataracts inhibit your ability to do regular daily activities such as driving or reading even with the use of eye glasses.
Since cataracts do not harm the eye itself and only affect the lens, surgery does not need to be immediately performed so you can decide to have the surgery when it is convenient for you. Although, if you have other vision or eye health issues having surgery to remove the cloudy lens may not help your vision at all.
Protecting Your Eyes from UV Rays
To lower your risk of developing cataracts from the harmful UV rays, there are some precautions you can take. First of all, you should always wear sunglasses when you’re outside, even if it’s a cloudy, dreary day because those UV rays can penetrate through those clouds and can still harm your eyes.
Make sure the sunglasses you wear offer protection from both UV-A and UV-B rays. You should also choose sunglasses that wrap around and offer protection from the sides as well. You may also want to wear a hat with a brim on it to give your eyes added protection from the sun, and this will also help to shield your face and skin from the sun as well.
Don’t forget to make sure that your kids keep their eyes protected from the sun as well. They should also always wear sunglasses and hats, and should try to stay out of the sun between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm because that is when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
Damage can also occur to your eyes from the UV rays that reflect off of surfaces like water, snow, pavement, cars, and houses so try not to look at those reflections directly and continue to keep your eyes covered.
And last, but not least, maintain your eye health by eating eye-healthy foods and taking supplements that contain some of the 17 vitamins, minerals, and herbs that promote good eye health.