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Protect your eyes

UV rays can damage more than your skin

We hear a lot about the importance of using sunscreen, especially this time of year. As you begin to enjoy warmer weather and longer days, don’t forget to also protect your eyes this summer—they can be damaged by UV rays, just like skin. 

What are UV rays and how do they affect our eyes?

Ultraviolet (UV) rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun. Ultraviolet light is broken down into subtypes, including UVA and UVB rays. When it comes to protecting our skin from UV damage, most of us are well-educated on the benefits of using sunscreen to prevent cancers, but we sometimes do not realize that it is just as important to take steps to protect our eyes from these same damaging rays.

Ultraviolet rays are known to cause a variety of problems for the eyes, including growths on the surface of the eye (such as pterygia), cataracts and cancers. Additionally, exposure to sunlight reflected off water, sand or snow can cause a condition called photokeratitis, sometimes referred to as “snow blindness.”

Can certain medications or conditions make people more vulnerable to UV damage?

Yes, they can. Some of the medications that are more commonly associated with an increased risk of photosensitivity include:

Antibiotics, such as those in the tetracycline and fluoroquinolone families, and trimethoprim.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

Antihypertensives, such as hydrochlorothiazide and diltiazem.

Cholesterol-lowering agents in the statin family.

This is by no means a comprehensive list; these are just some of the commonly used medications that affect UV vulnerability.

There are also certain conditions or traits that can lead to higher vulnerability to UV damage. Melanin is a natural pigment occurring in many parts of the body, including skin and eyes, that can be protective in blocking UV radiation from causing the damage that can lead to cancers. Individuals with light colored eyes (less melanin) or conditions such as albinism are at higher risk for damage from UV rays.

Dr. Lucy Franklin is an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Kentucky. 

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