Sunglasses are the best way to protect your eyes from harmful UV radiation, which can cause a variety of eye diseases.
Gerry Kahrmann / PNG files
Opinion: Canadians walk around without fully understanding the consequences of UV damage to their eyesWith summer on the horizon, it seems B.C. residents are turning a blind eye to the protection of one of life’s most important assets: Our vision.The sun supports life on our planet, but its life-giving rays also pose dangers. Its primary threat is in the form of ultraviolet radiation. The UV index has made many Canadians more aware of the risks of sunburn and skin cancer from the sun’s UV radiation, but UV and other radiation from the sun can also harm the eyes.Ultraviolet light is all around us. We cannot see it, but it’s there every day, on sunny as well as cloudy days.Canadians walk around without fully understanding the consequences of UV damage to their eyes. Over time, exposure to UV can cause various forms of eye disease and can accelerate aging by damaging the sensitive skin around the eyes. The damaging effects can include sunburn of the cornea, cataracts, macular degeneration, cancer and photo-aging of the skin.According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, an estimated 500,000 Canadians are blind or partially sighted. Meanwhile, an estimated 5.6 million more have an eye disease that could cause sight loss, led by cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.The World Health Organization estimates that 50 per cent of blindness worldwide is caused by cataracts and roughly 20 per cent of all cataracts are caused — or worsened by — UV radiation. While most people know that prolonged UV exposure is bad for their skin, and at the very least will wear a hat or apply sunscreen, when it comes to their eye health, they disregard the risks.This topic has come to light in compelling new data from the Canadian Eye Health Survey, a 2019 poll of 1,557 Canadian residents commissioned by Zeiss. The poll revealed how people think about UV radiation and showcased the vulnerability of a large cohort of consumers, specifically those who wear prescription glasses — which is 74 per cent of B.C. residents.The survey found that 42 per cent of British Columbians responded that UV radiation was the main threat to eye health, tied for the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, 39 per cent of B.C. respondents felt that protection against UV is important when purchasing clear glasses. Safety is near the bottom of a list of features that people consider when buying eyeglasses, ranking it after things like comfort, price and scratch resistance.While sunglasses provide excellent protection, research indicates that only one in four people consistently wear them when outdoors. For kids, that number is only one in 20. Meanwhile, most clear lenses only offer partial UV protection. Lack of protection can lead to accelerated aging of the tissue surrounding the eyes and eye diseases.Most clear lenses only block parts of the UV spectrum — up to 380 nanometers or less. To date, this has been the accepted level of UV protection for clear lenses. However, the WHO and numerous other health organizations have established 400 nm as the recommended standard for UV eye protection. The irradiance between 380 and 400 nm is much more intense and represents up to 40 per cent of the total amount of solar UV irradiance.An estimated 80 per cent of all clear eyeglass materials do not fully block to this standard of 400 nm. The UV400 standard has been met through UVProtect Technology that adds the 40 per cent extra protection from UV rays. Zeiss, the organization that invented the technology, does not patent it, instead making it available in the hopes that the industry will raise the level of UV protection for all patients around the globe.Optical science, research, education and community outreach are underway to improve eye health for everyone. Canadian health authorities, policymakers and company leaders can also band together to address the issue of eye health.Dr. Ritesh Patel is a Toronto optometrist.Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at email@example.com.CLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.