Sun and UV exposure

Ultraviolet Radiation (UV)

Ultraviolet radiation (UV) is an invisible component of sunlight, most commonly known to cause sunburns and skin cancers. Some UV is filtered by the ozone layer but increasing amounts are reaching the earth as the ozone layer diminishes. Exposure to UV builds over time. And direct contact with sunlight, for even short periods of time, can lead to several long-term eye health problems. Some of these problems begin symptom-free. 

To help reduce UV radiation damage to your eyes, consider the following tips: 

Beware of high sources of UV exposure in the workplace. 

The Canadian Center for Occupational Health & Safety indicates examples of workers at potential risk from exposure to UV radiation. This includes:
     • Outdoor workers 
     • Construction workers 
     • Paint and resin curers 
     • Plasma torch operators 
     • Welders 
     • Farmers 
     • Food and drink irradiators 
     • Hairdressers
     • Laboratory workers 
     • Lighting technicians 
     • Lithographic and printing workers  
     • Police

Recognize sources of man-made ultraviolet radiation.

In dental and medical practices, UV radiation can be used for: 
     • Killing bacteria 
     • Creating fluorescent effects 
     • Curing resins 
     • Phototherapy 

Other examples include:
     • Sun tanning booths 
     • UV lamps 
     • Arc welding torches 
     • Mercury vapour lamps. 

Wear sunglasses, prescription or safety glasses with anti-UV coatings. 

Sunlight is by far the greatest source of UV radiation. Exposure to its UVA and UVB rays, as well as man-made sources of UVC rays, can lead to long-term eye damage including:
     • Age-related macular degeneration
     • Cataracts
     • Eyelid skin cancer
     • Premature age spots around the eyes
     • Tissue growths on the surface of the eye including pinguecula and pterygium, where the latter can encroach on the corneal axis

If you wear corrective contact lenses, consider wearing UV-blocking contact lenses for an added layer of UV protection. 

Sunglasses are important but aren’t always enough. Depending on the frame size, shape and position, as much as 45 per cent of UV rays can still reach the eyes. Contact lenses with UV protection are an effective way to block light from the sides.  It also protects from harmful UV radiation reaching the cornea and inside the eye. However, not all contact lenses offer UV protection. Check with your optometrist to find out which ones are right for you.

Recognize symptoms of UV eye damage.

Depending on the UV source, UB burns are commonly known as:
     • Welder’s flash
     • Snow blindness
     • Ground-glass eyeball
     • Flash burn
Common symptoms include:
     • Immediate pain
     • Inflammation of the cornea 
     • An intolerance to light 

Should you experience these symptoms, see your optometrist right away.
While the symptoms listed above indicate eye damage caused by UV exposure, many long-term problems caused by UV exposure are symptom-free. To learn about the UV damage your eyes may already have, visit your optometrist for a thorough eye examination. 

Children and UV

Children spend more time outdoors than the average adult, receiving approximately three times the annual adult dose of UV. Since the crystalline lens in children’s eyes are less capable to filter UV than adults, they are at a greater risk of internal eye damage. This includes cataracts and macular degeneration, later in life. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates up to 80 per cent of a person's lifetime exposure to damaging UV radiation occurs before age 18. Protecting your child now will decrease the potential for serious eye problems later in life. 

Here are some tips to help reduce UV radiation damage to your child’s eyes:  

  • Be conscious of the daily UV index and the many sources of UV radiation, including direct sunlight and reflections from snow, water, sand and pavement.
  • ave your child wear sun protection, such as sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap, when outdoors.
  • Teach your children to never look directly into or stare at the sun.
  • Keep children out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Keep children younger than six months out of direct sunlight. Use a canopy or umbrella and/or sunglasses as a sun-shield when outdoors.


Luckily, good sunglasses protect both the eye and the surrounding skin. Before choosing sunglasses for your child, it is important to see your optometrist for a comprehensive eye examination. This will ensure your child’s eyes are healthy or current conditions are properly cared for. 

If your child requires prescription glasses, consider: 
  • Variable tint or transition lenses that darken when exposed to UV light
  • A separate pair of spectacles with tinted lenses and UV400 protective coating for outdoor use
  • Contact lenses with UV protection. They can be an added layer to help protect harmful UV radiation from reaching the cornea and into your child’s eye.

If your child does not require prescription glasses, choose over-the-counter sunglasses with: 
  • A close-fitting, wrap around style frame
  • 100% UVA and UVB blocking lenses
  • Impact resistant lenses

While tests have shown inexpensive sunglasses can provide full UV protection, the quality of materials and consistency of the tints may be inferior. These imperfections can distort vision, causing mild headaches or eyestrain when sunglasses are worn. Buy from a reputable professional or retailer, or have the glasses assessed by your optometrists. This will ensure your child is wearing a good quality product.  

Find an optometrist near you.