Ultraviolet Radiation: Bring Out The Suntan Lotion, But What About Your Eyes?

By James Young

I thought that I could see reasonably well when I went to renew my driver’s license in December, 2007, at age 74. When I took the vision test I could barely see the objects in the vision box. I had to have my eyes examined. I made an appointment, but before my appointment date I drove to a conference in Philadelphia, PA. When we arrived in Center City we were on the lookout for our hotel. My wife could read the marquee two blocks away and I could not make out the name. I had to have two surgeries; a macular hole in my retina was repaired first, followed by cataract surgery two years later. Maryland licenses are now good for five years. Supposed I had gotten my license a year earlier, blindness would not have been seen lurking down the road.

Most of us are aware of the harm that Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can do to the skin, but may not realize that it also harms the eyes. Approximately 20.5 million Americans age, 40 and older, have cataracts, the leading cause of blindness worldwide. What is a cataract? It is a condition in which there is gradual clouding of the eyes’ natural crystalline lens. This lens assists with focusing onto the retina, which communicates images to the brain. Cataract extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed in the US, accounting for more than two million procedures each year.

There are plenty of opportunities for overexposure of UV rays to the eyes in most outdoor activities. Without the wrap-around sunglasses and a hat/cap the UV rays could reach your eyes. Consider golf, tennis, boating, fishing, skiing, baseball, driving with your sunroof open or convertible top down. Without adequate protection, you increase your chances of developing cataracts.

I was fortunate to catch my cataract in time and pass this information on to my children and grandchildren so that they can start early–protecting their eyes from the harmful rays of the summer sun.

About the author: James T. Young was a chemist at NIH for thirteen years before ending up a program analyst in the Public Health Service his last twelve years of government service. He has enjoyed being a SEE employee since 1995.

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