Prevent Blindness America Launches Online Resource for UV Education

MOST people know the harmful effects that ultraviolet (UV) rays can have on the skin. But many are not aware of the damage that they can cause to the eyes. Possibly the most frightening aspect of UV damage is that it is cumulative, meaning the negative effects may not present themselves until years later.

A recent survey, sponsored by Transitions Optical Inc. found that although 82 percent of respondents knew that extended exposure to the sun could cause skin cancer, only 9 percent knew it could damage vision. Additionally, only one in six respondents said they wear sunglasses when they prepare for extended exposure to the sun and only approximately one third said they wear a hat.

"Most of us wouldn't dream of staying outside in the sun without putting on sunscreen lotion," said Daniel D. Garrett, senior vice president of Prevent Blindness America. "But we also have to remember to wear both UV-blocking lenses and a brimmed hat to protect our eyes as well."

In conjunction with UV Awareness Month in May, Prevent Blindness America is launching a new, dedicated online resource for people to learn more about what they can do to protect their eyes. The Web site, http://www.preventblindness.org/uv, offers a variety of tools and information on everything from risk factors to buying tips for sunglasses for adults and children. The site was made possible by a grant through the Transitions(R) Healthy Sight for Life Fund.

Extended UV exposure has been linked to eye damage including:

Cataract -- a major cause of visual impairment and blindness worldwide. Cataracts are a cloudiness of the lens inside the eye that develops over a period of many years. Laboratory studies have implicated UV radiation as a cause of cataract. Furthermore, studies have shown that certain types of cataract are associated with a history of higher ocular exposure to UV and especially UV-B radiation.

Age-related macular degeneration -- a leading cause of vision loss in the United States for people age 55 and older. Exposure to UV and intense violet/blue visible radiation is damaging to retinal tissue and scientists have speculated that chronic UV or intense violet/blue light exposure may contribute to degenerative processes in the retina.

Pterygium -- a growth of tissue on the white of the eye that may extend onto the clear cornea where it can block vision. It can be removed surgically, but often recurs, and can cause cosmetic concerns and vision loss if untreated.

Photokeratitis -- essentially, a reversible sunburn of the cornea resulting from excessive UV-B exposure. It can be extremely painful for one to two days and can result in temporary loss of vision. There is some indication that long-term exposure to UV-B can result in corneal and conjunctival degenerative changes.

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