OHS Canada Magazine

Vision Protection for All Seasons

March 13, 2018
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By Jean Lian

Summer may seem like a universe away as we trudge through the tail end of winter, but the inexorable tide of seasons will bring much-needed vitamin D to our system sooner than we think. And when summer showers its glorious warmth upon us, hitting the beaches in bikinis and board shorts — or heading out to work for those in forestry or road construction for example — necessitates having the right eyeglasses.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, sun exposure is one of the reasons that contribute to the risk of developing eye cancer. While sun exposure is a commonly known risk factor for melanoma on the skin, research has also linked sun exposure to melanoma of the eye (or intraocular melanoma) and squamous cell sarcinoma of the conjunctiva. Some evidence also suggests that people who work outdoors have a higher risk of developing eye cancer.

According to information from the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause short-term pain and discomfort, but permanent damage to the eyes can result from prolonged exposure to the sun without adequate protection. Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the sun’s rays, because their ocular lenses are not yet mature and cannot filter UV light as effectively as adults can, causing damage to the retina. Their larger pupils also allow more light rays into the eye.

Short-term, excessive exposure to UV light, especially from light reflected from sand, snow or pavement, without adequate eye protection can burn the eye’s surface, much like sunburn on the skin. Long-term, cumulative UV exposure can also injure parts inside the eye, such as the lens and retina, increasing the risk of chronic eye diseases and various cancers. Years of repeated exposure can result in more permanent damage that may contribute to vision loss and eye diseases, including cataracts, macular degeneration, increased risk of melanoma of the eye and pterygium — a growth that invades the corner of the eyes.

Wearing the right eyewear with adequate UV protection can help guard against these eye-related health conditions, and that means looking for glasses that filter out 99 to 100 per cent of UV light, which comprises both UV-A and UV-B, the Canadian Ophthalmological Society advises. For those who spend a lot of time in the sun, wrap-around glasses is a good design to go with as it prevents the sun from entering the eyes from the sides. The colour of a pair of shades is not indicative of its protection, as dark lenses do not necessarily mean good protection, nor do expensive glasses.

Shielding our windows to the soul from sun exposure applies in winter as much as in summer. Sunlight reflecting off the snow can be very harsh and has the potential to damage the eyes’ front surface, according to the American Academy of Opthalmology. Exposure to UV radiation can be high even on cloudy days, and exposure increases with elevation.

For those whose jobs require working outdoors in winter, such as employees in ski lodges, construction, snow removal, oil and gas or landscaping, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that special precautions be taken to protect the eyes and only goggles or sunglasses with UV protection should be worn.

Jean Lian is editor of OHS Canada.