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Which Eye Problems Can UV Rays Cause?

  • Corneal sunburn (Photokeratitis)
  • Pterygium
  • Cataract
  • Macular degeneration
  • Skin cancer

The sun supports life on our planet, but its life-giving rays also pose dangers. The sun’s primary danger is in the form of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Artificial sources, like welding machines, tanning beds and lasers, can also produce UV radiation.

Most people are aware of how harmful UV radiation is to the skin. However, many may not realize that UV radiation can harm the eyes, and other components of solar radiation can also affect vision. There are three types of UV radiation. UV-C is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not present any threat. However, UV-A and UV-B radiation can have long- and short-term negative effects on the eyes and vision.

According to Dr. John Lahr, O.D., divisional vice president, EyeMed Provider Relations and medical director, overexposure to UVA or UVB rays can lead to serious eye problems including :

Photokeratitis (inflammation of the cornea), which is very painful and can cause temporary vision loss. Its symptoms include red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing

Pingueculea and pterygia (growths on the eye’s surface);

Cataracts or macular degeneration later in life due to the damage to the lense and retina. The longer the eyes are exposed to solar radiation, the greater the risk of developing any of these conditions. It is not clear how much exposure to solar radiation will cause damage. Therefore, whenever you spend time outdoors, wear quality sunglasses that offer UV protection and a hat or cap with a wide brim. While some contact lenses offer UV protection, they don’t cover the entire eye, so contact lens wearers still need sunglasses. Close-fitting, wraparound sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of both UVA and UVB rays provide the most protection.

Don’t forget protection for children and teenagers. They typically spend more time in the sun than adults. Keep in mind that UV rays are harshest when the sun is high in the sky, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The closer you are to the earth’s equator, the stronger they are. They’re also stronger at high altitudes and against the reflective surfaces of snow, water or sand.

UV rays pass through clouds, so don’t be fooled into thinking protective eyewear isn’t needed when the sky is cloudy. Even though shaded areas reduce UV exposure, your eyes can still be exposed to rays that bounce from buildings, roads and other surfaces.


So whenever you’re outdoors, it makes sense to keep your eyes—and your family’s eyes—protected with a pair of good sunglasses. Regular eye exams are important so that vision problems can possibly be detected early. Schedule an eye exam today with your eye care professional.


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