It's a fact that basically everybody is exposed to UV rays. However, the potential dangers of many years of exposure to these harmful rays aren't really thought through, and the majority of people take little action to shield their eyes, even when they're expecting to be out in the sun for many hours. Being exposed to too much UV is unsafe and irreversible, and may lead to a number of severe, vision-stealing conditions in older age. This means that ongoing protection from UV rays is equally important for everybody.
There are two types of UV rays: UV-A and UV-B, both of which are damaging. Even though only small amounts of UVA and UVB light enter the inner eye, the eye cells are very receptive to the damaging effects of their rays. Intense, short-term of exposure can easily result in sunburnt eyes, often referred to as photokeratitis. When UVB rays enter the cornea, the cells that make up its exterior are destroyed, and this can cause blurred vision, pain or in serious cases, temporary blindness. UVA rays can enter the eye more deeply, causing harm to the retina. Out of the 20 million people suffering from cataracts, about 20 percent are partly caused by extended exposure to UV rays.
An ideal way to shield your eyes from UV rays is by wearing high quality sunglasses. Be sure that your sunglasses or prescription eyewear block 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. An insufficient pair of sunglasses can sometimes be more harmful than using no sunglasses at all. Basically, if your sunglasses don't offer any UV protection, it means you're actually increasing your exposure to UV rays. Such sunglasses tend to reduce the light, causing the iris to open and allow more light in. This means that even more UV will be hitting the retina. Always check to make sure your sunglasses give maximum protection against UV.
Wearing a large hat or baseball cap will also protect you from up to half of UV rays. A brimmed hat or cap will also reduce UV rays that reach your eyes from above or around glasses.
Years of exposure to UV rays can also cause an abnormal tissue growth on the eye, which is called pterygium. This is a narrow, wedge-shaped tissue growth with blood vessels that appear over the white part on the surface of the eye. In addition to being cosmetically unsightly, a pterygium can be uncomfortable, and can even affect the contour of the eyeball, causing astigmatism. If the pterygium begins to grow over the cornea, it can blur or obstruct vision and may result in surgery. Because pterygia are the result of extended UV exposure and windy conditions, it's totally avoidable.
Speak to your optometrist about the various UV protection options, including, but not limited to, fixed tint sunglasses, adaptive lenses and polarized lenses.