With summer in full swing, it seems totally appropriate that July is UV awareness month. As corny as that may sound, ultraviolet radiation is a very serious issue whose effects Dr. King and I deal with every single day. How is that possible you might ask? Read on…
I am only going to use the word “SUN” in this paragraph and from then on it will be referred to by its scientific name which is ultraviolet (UV) radiation. I will admit “basking in the sun” sounds like a nice Saturday afternoon activity, however “basking in the radiation” sounds significantly less enjoyable and drastically more dangerous. Exposing yourself and your family to UV radiation without proper precautions is no different than exposing them to other preventable diseases. The truth is that UV radiation (ie: the sun) causes disease and illness.
UV radiation is well known for causing skin cancer, specifically a type of cancer called melanoma. Alarmingly, rates of skin cancer have been dramatically rising over the years. Since 1970 there has been an 8 fold increase in melanoma rates in young women and a 4 fold increase amoung men. Researchers suspect this increase is due to increased tanning bed use and increased UV exposure over a lifetime.
Unfortunately melanoma is not just a type of skin cancer. It is also a type of eye/ocular cancer, in fact, ocular melanoma is the most common type of cancer to effect the eye. Melanoma, while relatively rare, can affect almost any part of the eye and is very dangerous. Ocular melanoma metastasis (ie: spreads to other parts of the body) in about 50% of cases, often to the liver, and has a high rate of fatality.
In addition to various types of melanoma, UV radiation has also been implicated in the development of macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in the United States. And it causes accelerated growth of cataracts. Additionally, other non-cancerous or pre-cancerous growths in and around the eyes are linked to UV exposure as well. Between all of these various ocular conditions linked to UV, we do deal with the effects of UV radiation on a daily basis at the clinic and chances are people in your family have already been affected too.
How UV Radiation Hurts:
It is important to remember that UV radiation is cumulative over your lifespan. Begining in infancy the cells that comprise your body are exposed to UV radiation, which they absorb. If the cumulative dose of UV exceeds a certain level (different for each person and each cell) the cell can no longer absorb the UV and process it in a healthy manner. As UV radiation continues to enter the cell, the cell becomes increasingly overwhelmed and damaged which then causes the cell to die, mutate, or become permanently damaged.
Don’t dispair just yet if you spent your teenage years doused in tanning oil or you remember more than one blistering sunburn. Your body is a highly resilant organism, capable of effectively absorbing some radiation. Sometimes the body can even heal cell damage due to radiation given the appropriate tools. The take home message is this: do not push your body to breaking point when it comes to UV radiation exposure. The results are never good. Since no one knows the breaking point of each individual cell, the best chance of keeping cells healthy is to minimize their exposure.
How do we minimize our exposure to UV radiation?
Luckily the answer is not “lock yourself in the basement all summer”. Exposure to UV radiation happens year round, not just in the summer months. Has anyone ever gotten a sunburn in the middle of winter? This happens all the time and is proof positive that every person should have a daily, year-round regimen to prevent UV exposure. I recommend eye protection for every single one of my patients, regardless of age. Fortunately UV protection for the eyes comes in many different forms. Transition lenses, stand-alone prescription sunglasses, clip-ons lenses, and fit-over lenses are all ways to protect your eyes. Aim for a frame that is fits closely to the face (to minimize light coming in from the top, bottom, and sides), has wide or wrap-around sides, and blocks UVA and UVB rays. We have a wide selection of all the above mentioned products at our office, stop in and try them out anytime! Our qualified staff would be happy to help you make the best decision for you. Feel free to check out some of our sunglasses in the photo gallery section of our website as well!
Polarization is a feature we recommend frequently, but as a vision enhancing product, not a safety enhancement. Polarization decreases glare from roads, water, snow, lights and enhances contrast but it does not impart any additional UV protection.
In addition, a wide-brimmed hat is an excellent way to block additional UV from the eyes. I also recommend skin products for daily use that contain a SPF 30 for the face, ears, head, neck, hands and any other part of the body not adequately covered by clothing. These products should be used 365 days a year to protect your delicate skin cells.
As a person who spends a lot of time outdoors year round, I personally recommend UPF clothing which adds extra protection to parts of the body which can absorb harmful UV radiation even when covered. Light-weight fabrics, popular for summer garments, can let UV radiation right through. UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing blocks up to 98% of rays, keeping your skin better protected. From a personal standpoint, in addition to being protective, these clothing items tend to be durable, lightweight, breathable and stylish!
Check out www.coolibar.com for UPF 50+ clothing, hats and other sun protection products that have the approval of the Melanoma International Foundation.
Have a great summer, but stay safe!