A safer view

A recent study says Charleston ranks high in the amount of ultraviolent rays that may damage eyes. (Tyrone Walker/postandcourier.com)

Sunlight can harm your eyes, so wear sunglasses.

A new report from the Vision Council, an association that represents optical industry manufacturers and suppliers, says ultraviolet rays can harm the eye and lead to vision impairment.

UV rays also can cause skin cancer in the sensitive skin of the eyelid, an increasingly common occurrence in the Charleston area, said Dr. M. Edward Wilson, a pediatric ophthalmologist at MUSC's Storm Eye Institute.

Another Storm Eye doctor, George O. Waring IV, said it's the visible blue light that is known to be the more dangerous source of eye damage. Waring, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at MUSC, said little in-depth scientific research has been done on the effects of UV radiation on the eyes.

“It's important to block blue light — much more important than the UV,” said Waring, who is the director of refractive surgery at Storm. “But it's easy enough to block the UV spectrum as well, and we're learning more about its effects.”

To block blue light, look for lenses that offer 95 percent to 100 percent UV filtering and have a yellow to dark amber tint.

Dr. Paul Michelson, a California-based professional adviser to the Vision Council, said blue light might be harmful, but he emphasized that UV rays are “unequivocally damaging” to the eyes.

Michelson said people who regularly have high UV exposure — those who live near the equator or at high altitudes and those who work outdoors — have a greater risk of pterygium, a type of painful eye growth.

Many sunglasses are advertised as offering UVA or UVB protection, which Wilson and the Vision Council said is essential for protecting the eyes from damage.

The eye also has natural filters to block most UV light, Waring said.

“UV in natural doses is needed for eye function and can be beneficial,” he said.

In his research, Waring has used UV light to treat disorders of the cornea. He noted, though, that UVB is known to be dangerous in cases involving snow blindness among mountaineers at high altitudes. And UVA might play a role in the development of cataracts and another condition that causes the eye to lose its ability to focus, he said.

The Vision Council pointed out that young eyes and blue eyes are especially prone to UV damage.

Charleston is 13th nationally among cities ranked in order of UV intensity, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Weather Service.

Waring reduced all the information to a single bottom line:

“Sunglasses are just a good idea if you spend a lot of time in the sun and live near the ocean,” he said.