FRIDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Folks have been taught to slather on sunscreen, slip on a shirt and clap a hat on their heads to protect their skin from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.
That's all good. But not adding a pair of good sunglasses to the ensemble still leaves people at risk, eye doctors say.
Ultraviolet, or UV, rays can cause significant damage to unprotected eyes, resulting in a number of illnesses and disorders that can rob people of their sight.
"People are more aware of skin cancer. There's more awareness of exposing your skin to the sun," said Dr. J. Alberto Martinez, a practicing ophthalmologist in Bethesda, Md., and a clinical professor of ophthalmology at Georgetown University Medical School. "But at the same time, the eyes suffer dramatically from ultraviolet exposure. UV exposure is a public health problem, and, as an ophthalmologist, I see the continuous, serious problems that are caused by UV."
Both short- and long-term exposure to UV rays can cause vision problems and eye damage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Air and Radiation.
People exposed to bright sunlight for even short periods can develop a "sunburn of the eye" in the form of either photokeratitis or photoconjunctivitis.
Photokeratitis is an inflammation of the cornea, the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris, pupil and lens, according to the World Health Organization. "The sun can cause superficial cells on the front of the cornea to become damaged and die off," said Dr. Lee Duffner, an ophthalmologist in Hollywood, Fla. Photoconjunctivitis is a similar inflammation that affects the conjunctiva, the membrane lining the inside of the eyelids and the eye socket. Both conditions can be very painful, but people tend to recover quickly from them with no long-term damage to their vision.
Long-term UV exposure can
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